Filing En Route May Not Be the Best Option

Time is short and your local flight service station’s phone is busy.Your passengers are anxious to get underway. No worries, you can file a flight plan en route, right? True. But with the abundance of temporary flight restrictions that pop up and down these days, taking the extra couple of minutes to file that flight plan before you take off may prevent you from finding yourself subject to an enforcement action after you land.

In a decision issued just a few months ago, the National Transportation Safety Board upheld the suspension of a commercial helicopter pilot’s license for 70 days for flying through restricted airspace in Northern California. The temporary flight restriction appears to have been related to the presence of a national political figure. The pilot was charged with violating section 91.141 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, which provides that no person may operate an aircraft over or in the vicinity of a public figure, such as the President or Vice President, when the FAA has restricted the area and published the restriction in a Notice to Airmen. As frequently happens with TFR violations, the FAA also charged the pilot with violating section 91.103, which requires pilots to be familiar with all aviation information concerning their flight before beginning the flight, and section 91.13(a), which forbids pilots from operating their aircraft in a careless or reckless manner.

The pilot in this case testified that he was aware of a NOTAM outlining the temporary restriction well before his flight, and even had gone so far as to outline the TFR on a map several days prior with the chief pilot of another commercial flight company. On the day of the flight, the pilot said he called the appropriate flight service station three times, trying to file a flight plan. He got a busy signal each time.Deciding to file while en route, the pilot took off for his destination.He called the FSS again en route, but was unable to raise the station by radio. Finally, he said he decided to call the local air traffic control, which gave him an alternate frequency to try. Apparently knowing he was close to the TFR, the pilot began to circle until he was able to contact the FSS, obtain a discrete transponder code and file his flight plan. By that time, he had come up on the radar of the person monitoring the TFR and, according to the flight track submitted by the FAA, had penetrated the restricted airspace.

Calling a flight service station en route when you haven’t been able to raise them on a landline may seem like a great alternative when time is short. However, with all the distractions already present in any cockpit, always take a moment to decide whether it’s a sound decision to do so. Especially given the ever-shifting landscape of TFRs that come and go with very little advance warning, it may be well worth a couple of extra minutes to get the information you need while you are still on the ground. The information you obtain while on the phone with flight service may keep you off the radar screen of the regulatory enforcers.

Hunter Old is a partner in the law firm of Kaufman & Canoles, P.C. in Williamsburg, Virginia. He holds a commercial, rotary-wing license and represents aviation-based businesses as well as individual pilots and mechanics. His e-mail is:

This article originally appeared in the June 2009 edition of Rotorcraft Professional and was reprinted with permission.

The contents of this publication are intended for general information only and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on specific facts and circumstances.

The contents of this publication are intended for general information only and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on specific facts and circumstances. Copyright 2018.

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