Temporary Flight Restrictions, or TFRs, are used by the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) to restrict aircraft flight operations in restricted areas. TFRs have long been used in manned aviation but they have gained increased importance with the widespread use of drones. TFRs are used to separate non-participating aircraft from the aircrafts engaged in certain activities such as firefighting and to prevent aircrafts from flying in areas relevant to national security. Drone pilots should be careful not to violate any TFRs. Violating a TFR can interfere with on-going operations, create a security risk or even cause a mid-air collision. There have been instances where fire-fighting operations had to be stopped because a drone was sighted nearby. Violating a TFR can lead to suspension of a pilot’s license.
Types of TFR
TFRs are categorized based on the CFR Section under which they are issued. There are 8 types of TFRs used throughout the National Airspace System. Having a good understanding of these is essential for every drone pilot.
14 CFR Section 91.137:
This section deals with TFRs in the Vicinity of Disaster/Hazard Areas. This TFR is meant to prevent low-flying aircraft from increasing an hazard. There are 3 situations when this TFR could be issued:
It prohibits all aircraft from operating in the designated area, unless it is participating in disaster/hazard relief activities and is being operated under the direction of the official in charge of on-scene emergency response activities. Examples of such hazards could be toxic gas leaks, volcanic eruptions or nuclear accidents. Most of such TFRs are between three and five nautical miles (NM) in radius and extend upward to 3,000 or 5,000 feet above ground level (AGL) and are very restrictive.
TFRs under this paragraph are intended to provide a safe environment for the operations of disaster relief aircrafts in case of emergencies such as avalanche control, wildfire and search and rescue activities. These restrictions are meant to keep non-participating aircraft away from the location. These TFRs are short-lived in nature and can last for a few hours or days.
These TFRs are intended to prevent unsafe congestion of sightseeing aircraft over an accident site generating public interest. Only the participating aircrafts are allowed to operate in such areas.
14 CFR Section 91.138
This section deals with TFRs in National Disaster Areas in the State of Hawaii. Do keep a look out for these if you are flying your drone in the Hawaiian Islands.
14 CFR Section 91.141
This section covers TFRs in the Proximity of the Presidential and Other Parties. These are issued to protect the President and Vice President when they are travelling. TFRs associated with Presidential visits can be as large as 30NM in radius.
14 CFR Section 91.143
Section 91.143 covers Flight Limitations in the Proximity of Space Flight Operations. These TFRs are established to provide a safe environment for space launch operations. As a result, most of these TFRs are situated in Florida, New Mexico or California.
14 CFR Section 91.145
TFRs under this section are established around major sporting events to prevent security issues. Currently, the following events are covered under this section:
- Major League Baseball
- National Football League
- NCAA Division One Football
- NASCAR Sprint Cup, Indy Car, and Champ Series races
TFRs for sporting events are active from one hour before the scheduled time of the event to one hour after the scheduled time and are effective within 3NM of the stadium or venue.
14 CFR Section 99.7
This section defines TFRs under Special Security Instructions. This section allows the FAA to issue specific restrictions in the interest of national security. For example, the two permanent TFRs on the Disneylands in California and Florida are enforced under this section.
As you can see, in spite of their name, TFRs can either be short-lived or permanent. You can check the latest list of TFRs on FAA’s official portal: https://tfr.faa.gov/tfr2/list.html. Be sure to check the FAA website for any active TFRs in your vicinity before every flight.