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January 13, 2013

Another reason to understand airspace - because the cops don't

Here's a story on AOPA from a sailplane pilot who was arrested and held overnight for violating a nonexistent "no-fly zone" over a power plant.  Meanwhile, his pals were searching for him.  No FAA violation occurred and charges were dropped...one month and 20 hours of legal fees later.


James Fallows sounds off on this topic in the Atlantic here:


This incident makes clear that we should expect more level-headed and even-handed response from our law enforcement officials.  But the main take-home for me was the fact that the Federal Aviation Regulations protected the pilot in this situation.  The glider pilot was simply doing what glider pilots do, searching for lift to make that final glide to his home airport.

The FAA Notice-to-Airmen in question here states, "In the interest of national security and to the extent practicable, pilots are strongly advised to avoid the airspace above, or in proximity to such sites as power plants... .  Pilots should not circle as to loiter in the vicinity over these types of facilities."

Key words in the notam are "practicable" and "loiter".

It wasn't "practicable" for the glider to avoid the facility and still get home.

Further, AOPA notes in its article:  Because gliders routinely circle to gain altitude in thermals, the Soaring Society of America sought a clarification from the FAA, posting on its website on March 7, 2002, that the FAA did not consider this behavior loitering.  "The key is to spend only as much time as needed to gain lift and move on beyond the facility," the association wrote.

The FAA essentially shrugged its shoulders over this whole incident.  Meanwhile the local police, DHS, and power plant security end up looking like....well, you be the judge.

So, free flight in this country is a privilege and comes with rules and responsibilities, absolutely.  However, those same rules, when we understand and abide by them, can protect individual pilots and our ability to do what we love to do.  And it never hurts to have an advocacy group like AOPA and the Soaring Society of America on your side.

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