Steer clear of sporting event TFRs

It's often said that the key to a safe and successful flight is preparation. A prudent pilot planning a VFR flight, in consideration of 14 CFR 91.103 (preflight action), might reasonably think that previewing the intended route on a sectional chart and obtaining a standard briefing, via telephone or DUATS, would adequately prepare him or her to steer clear of airspace issues. Be careful with respect to sporting event temporary flight restrictions (stadium TFRs)—you may not be getting the full picture. 

FDC NOTAM 4/3621 is the official FAA notification instrument for stadium TFRs. It is sometimes referred to as a blanket notam, because it does not relate to a specific event, but rather, it covers a broad category of sporting events.  It provides notice of the imposition of a TFR under certain circumstances: "Pursuant to 14 CFR Section 99.7, special security instructions, commencing one hour before the scheduled time of the event until one hour after the end of the event.  All aircraft operations: including parachute jumping, unmanned aircraft and remote controlled aircraft, are prohibited within a 3NMR up to and including 3000ft AGL of any stadium having a seating capacity of 30,000 or more people where either a regular or post season Major League Baseball, National Football League, or NCAA division one football game is occurring.  This NOTAM also applies to Nascar Sprint Cup, Indy Car, and Champ Series races excluding qualifying and pre-race events."

You might assume this notam is readily available and widely disseminated, right? Well, sort of. The FAA publishes FDC notams in the Notices To Airman publication. It’s published every 28 days. NOTAM 4/3621 is buried on page 263 of the current 567-page publication. Be aware that the notices provided in this publication are not given during pilot briefings or via DUATS unless specifically requested.  The problem is that many pilots are not familiar with the Notices To Airman publication and don’t know to ask the briefer or select the DUATS option to obtain the sporting event notam. Furthermore, the notam itself does not provide the necessary details (no locations or times) to help us avoid the TFR. That’s right; it’s essentially a TFR that alerts us to the possibility of a TFR. Thankfully, most moving-map software providers depict the relevant information on associated navigation devices and applications. Also, in my experience, the fine folks at Lockheed-Martin Flight Service will do their best to try to help. They are not an official source for stadium event locations and times; however, if asked, they will usually point you to SkyVector, a free online resource that graphically displays the stadium TFRs.

At the risk of adding more confusion to an already-murky matter, I will point out that some major sporting events, like the World Series, World Cup, and Indianapolis 500, are handled differently and issued specific notams with specific information (see 14 CFR 91.145).  As always, be sure to check for notams/TFRs before you go flying and be forewarned that some might be easier to find than others.

Mike Yodice
Mr. Yodice has been a pilot since 1979. He took instruction at the historic College Park (MD) airport and co-owns a Piper Cherokee and flies the family Piper J3-Cub.
Topics: Pilot Protection Services, AOPA Products and Services

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