Clueless & Harmless?

August 25, 2010 by Bruce Landsberg

Know Before You GoAs the political silly season for the fall elections gets cranked up, expect TFRs to blossom like mushrooms. Today’s world, unfortunately, requires an additional step for even the most basic VFR flight. You’ve gotta get a security briefing either from FSS or the web even though there may not be a cloud within 500 miles and you’re just out for a local flight near the home drome.

The security situation could be much better executed in places but I’m beginning to see why dot-connecting is a bit challenging for more than just the government. Last week significantly more than a few VFR pilots blundered into the presidential TFR over Martha’s Vineyard as the first family was taking vacation. This was even after significant effort was made to lessen the inconvenience to the flying public to accommodate vacation high season.  A couple of these pilots were reportedly repeat offenders. One person described a pilot who recently violated a TFR as  “Clueless and harmless.” The first part of his comment is correct and it’s not something to be proud of. I don’t want to be operating in the same airspace with clueless aviators because if they are a bit foggy on TFR airspace, there are likely other significant gaps in their knowledge as well.

The second part is incorrect and does significant damage to GA to our relationship with the government, the political establishment and to the public’s image of GA .  AOPA, on the advocacy side, is working hard to bring some sanity into this equation but don’t hold your breath. The AOPA Air Safety Foundation provides free and easy access education to all pilots to guide them through.  Armed with some basic knowledge it’s quite possible to negotiate around TFR airspace without a huge amount of hassle. If that’s too much to ask, then you’d better fly IFR everywhere but that’s certainly no place to be clueless either.

Remember the infamous Cessna 150 from Smoketown, PA that “cluelessly” busted Class B and the DC ADIZ? Several non-harmless things happened as a result of that. It was a huge media mess, a significant relaxing of the ADIZ rules that were about to be put in place were indefinitely put on hold  and the pilot’s certificate was revoked. Not suspended – revoked. I’m having a hard time finding winners in that scenario. GA pilots were the big loser on that deal – well beyond one clueless and not-so-harmless pilot.

Until the world becomes a friendlier place, which may be awhile, it’s incumbent upon us to play the game. It’s a part of the PIC thing. We all long for the simpler aeronautical life of the past but regardless of how balled up this may be, it’s the system we have – not the system we want (seems I’ve heard that somewhere before).  The U.S. is absolutely the best place in the world to fly despite some of the hassles. To quote the spokesperson for GA Serves America, Harrison Ford, ” Let’s keep it that way.”

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Rich Martindell

    First, I do check NOTAMs and TFRs before flying. Second, if I’m not IFR I am using VFR flight following and while you can’t expect the controllers to have your back they have always done a great job reminding me of what I already knew. VFR flight following was not an option in your survey so I didn’t respond.

  • Bruce Landsberg


    Good point. VFR flight following will help but is no guarantee. As I said, it’s that PIC thing that some of us have trouble understanding.

  • Pete Montefusco

    Before I fly, even locally to just stretch my wings, I check everything I can just to be safe and legal (TFRs). Most times flying has become a chore instead of a pleasure. Now with this recent president who takes more vacations than I have time to fly, TFRs have really been popping up as he decides to run around the country instead of working in Washington. All we can do, as pilots, is check all the info we can get our hands on, from any source at our disposal and plan from there.
    I do disagree with your one statement, and I quote “The second part is incorrect and does significant damage to GA to our relationship with the government, the political establishment and to the public’s image of GA” . You mention our “relationship” with the government– I always thought WE were the government–as in the begining of the constitution. When did that change?

  • Sally


    That changed when Abraham Lincoln fought and won a war against several of the united States. As of 1865, the Constitution was dead. And it was dying even before that.

  • Terry Welander

    Mr. Landsberg is wrong big time about the TFRs. They should exist for national emergencies only; the original intent. The government is by constitutional definition care taker only of citizen rights. Citizen rights as defined in the US Constitution are inalienable, not abridgeable and not replaceable except during declared war. Not only has the government not been care taking citizen rights, the government has been trampling on them, violating citizen rights at nearly every turn without any justification. It is long overdue for a laser like house cleaning of government at all levels; removing anyone and any statute which violates basic rights. If AOPA is not prepared to defend basic rights of aircraft use and movement at every turn, within one or two generations these rights will be gone or so restricted as to be useless.

  • Denny Jackson

    Thank God some real Americans chimed in here to remind us that the rule of law is dead and the nation is ruled by a criminal gang of liars, thieves, and murderers. Anyone who thinks these TFRs and other “security” measures are for our protection are idiots. It’s not about security, it’s about control and the exercise of power.

    The first couple of posts by were sadly typical of the majority of the populace who meekly accept the royalty status of these so-called “public servants” who are so vitally important that no mere mundane may approach their Most Holy High Personages. Don’t anger their excellencies, whatever you do! And be sure to wring every last drop of enjoyment out of flying lest you offend some bureaucrat somewhere.

    Never mind that a TFR isn’t going to slow down anyone with real malice in mind, that intercept response time is far too long to be of any practical defensive use, that a halfway competent terrorist could easily file a flight plan into the TFR and then go on to wreak havoc; when did the gang of tax-eating wealth-destroyers pretending to be a government attain the status of privileged untouchables before whom we must kneel and avert our eyes?

    If aviation advocacy groups simply accept this miserable state of affairs and won’t aggressively defend our rights, what good are they?

  • Duane

    The only thing clueless is the stupid regulation and the idiots that put it in place. There is nothing harmless about it.

  • Bruce Liddel

    Terry is absolutely right.

    If Mr. Landsberg believes that pilots who blunder into sudden pop-up VIP TFRs are not harmless, then perhaps it is time to stop quietly looking the other way whenever domestic pilots under VIP TFRs are shot down. Oh, I know, officially this has never happened, but nobody can prove a negative, and the threat of a shower of hot lead is certainly explicit in every VIP TFR.

    AOPA and EAA should portray the VIP TFR as what it really is. It is perhaps slightly less common, but far more deadly than poor weather, more deadly than landing downwind on a soft field at night while intoxicated, more deadly than flying inverted underneath the St Louis Arch or various bridges. At least (with enough daylight) you can detect IMC just by looking. VIP TFRs are a pernicious threat that you cannot predict, cannot see, hear, smell, touch, taste, or even outrun. You can and should call FSS before every flight (even across town), but even if flight service tells you everything they know (which they don’t always), by the time you land five minutes later, you may be met by an army of SS ready (perhaps even anxious) to kill you if you stumble or hesitate during their “pop” quiz.

    Maybe then more US citizens would realize what our federal government has become, and work harder to restore some semblance of civilization. It isn’t just a question of flying rights. It’s a question about our entire purpose for federal government. Freedom isn’t free.

  • Sam Beale

    While I agree wholeheartedly with all of the foregoing regarding the arrogant morons that make the rules, and the inherent inanity in the rules themselves (even in commercial aviation, when was the first date that it became impossible to ever again hijack an airliner with a few pocketknives? Sept. 12, 2001, of course), I must defend Bruce and ASF and AOPA on one point in particular.

    He realizes that advising a bunch of arrogant morons that are, for now, in charge of the rules, that they are in fact arrogant morons, is not the best and most effective way of getting the rules changed, even though there would be a good deal of satisfaction in doing so. A calm, logical argument, over the long term, is more likely to be effective. (I realize that using the word logical in anything that refers to any government agency is itself illogical.)

    Speaking of the long term, an INFORMED electorate, that makes it a priority to get to the polls on election day, could work wonders as well. This is particularly true in primaries where candidates are selected, thus increasing the odds of having a decent candidate to choose on election day.

  • Franklin E. Fraitus

    I dare you to find the Constitutional authority for TFR’s. The interstate commerce clause? Not a chance.

  • Doug Drummond

    When I was the secretary of a flying club, I put a paragraph in each newsletter reminding our members to check for TFRs with Flight Service, and especially since we are in Chicagoland, the President’s home town. The current secretary continues to do so, and we display the internet links to the AOPA and other sites with that information.

  • Rich Giannotti

    Pilots who don’t get a briefing before a flight should be taken to task. No excuse for flying “clueless”… HOWEVER
    The real issue here is that AOPA has failed miserably in allowing these excessive flight restrictions so politicians can vacation on our dime. It’s the standard AOPA line. “We’re here to help you follow the rules”

    That’s nice, but some of the rules are stupid and somebody needs to be our advocate and fight for our rights. Lately, it has NOT been AOPA.

    Rich Giannotti AOPA 00426339

  • Gary Stegall

    Problem is, as I understand it, is that a TFR may pop up onto your route while you are enroute and if you innocently enter it, it’s too bad for you. Is that fair? I think this TFR thing is way overblown!

  • Flygirl62

    Every time I fly—which is often—I feel like a bird with lots of little strings attached to my wings, tying me down.

    Regulatory authority is out of control.

    VFR pilots face a real problem with TFR’s: they can potentially arise more quickly than their existence can be communicated. It’s one of the many reasons I usually file IFR; not because it’s faster or easier but because I feel less vulnerable, legally.

    The need for swift and accurate in flight exchange of information is increasing, but our ability to do so is not.

  • Robert

    Why isn’t the TFR called the ” I’m employed by corporate america and you pay my salary which makes me better than you flight restriction” I know too long

  • Bruce Landsberg

    First — thanks for all your responses and the civil nature. There appears to be a “certain” sense of frustration in the aviation electorate ( not much gets by me! )

    You raise some fundamental issues that are probably a “bit beyond” the scope of this blog. I know from some long conversations with AOPA’s Gov’t Affairs security folk that dealing with security people in the government is extremely challenging but there are clearly some security threats that they need to anticipate.

    Are there better ways of dealing with it? Absolutely! I am guardedly optimistic that at some point more sanity may prevail but it’s going to take a lot of effort. Paradoxically, our greatest attribute of freedom is also a significant weakness that clever enemies can exploit but Benjamin Franklin perhaps has the best quote:

    “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. ”

    As for the political challenges in general – follow the dictates of those who live in both Chicago and NJ –Vote early and often!

  • Dick Vockroth

    Several years ago I suggested to both AOPA and some FAA representatives that all ATIS broadcasts include notifications of any TFRs within 100 nm. This would cover not only the scheduled TFRs but also the “pop-ups”, reduce unnecessary calls to FSS, and be far more effective than the current practices. When I fly VFR I listen to every ATIS along my route just for altimeter settings if nothing else, and recently I heard about the TFR near Wilmington, DE for vice-president Biden’s residence. This took only a few seconds of an ATIS tape that had to be made anyway. Why can’t this be done everywhere?

  • Keith

    While I agree with the article, I would like to add that there are WAY too many TFRs now. It seems everyone in big government gets a TFR these days. Even ex-presidents apparently. This is ridiculous. Where does it end. Pull up the TFR map and look. Other than obvious things like air shows, there are too many things like VIP movement.

  • Mark

    I think the article nailed it if you can stop letting three little letters distract you. The point is that, like Bruce, I don’t want any “clueless” persons risking MY privileges (flying, like driving, is not a right guaranteed in any state or federal constitution). If these people can’t stay out of restricted space on a VFR day that even someone sitting in Colorado, sitting at his desk knew about, what else are they clueless about? The weather? Their aircrafts limitations? Their own?

    Regardless of what your opinion is of flight restrictions, temporary or otherwise, we do not, as a group, appear professional, thoughtful, safe or even conscious if any of our members act “clueless”. Nearly every law or regulation out there is a result of very poor judgement by a few “unelected representatives”. I CAN NOT condone the acts of these bumble bees, regardless of the conditions by which they were snared. Justified or not, those restrictions were known if you cared enough about keeping our privileges to check into it.

    Regarding restrictions, yes, the justification/implementation/notification needs some serious work, and I like the idea of ATIS/AWOS/ASOS adding the temporary ones in their recordings. Out west, they pop up for fires more than politicians and for some reason, lighting and arsonists don’t like to announce their intentions in advance. Go figure. Perhaps if we reminded the politicians about that association, they may reconsider their “no-notice” trips.

  • Kevin A. Roll

    I feel it necessary to correct a major error in Mark’s statement above. No federal or state constitutions guarantee rights of any sort. As free people we are born with the right to take any action imaginable as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others. The constitution does not create rights; it protects them by placing specific restrictions on the powers of government. The government possesses only the powers that were specifically delegated to it by the people, and no others.

    I don’t want bumblebees in my airspace either, but I recognize that there is no system that will prevent them entirely that will not be too onerous to my own freedom.

  • John Tichy

    Landsberg and the other four Boneheads, Haines, Twombly, Machado, and most of all Schiff are an insult to one’s intelligence. What a total waste of printed magazine space. Read their articles and count how many times they say the word “I”. Who give a you know what about “I”. AOPA is a very good organization that does many good thing for GA, but they need to S…can those four nitwits.

  • Bob H.

    So… the article next week should go back to why there are fewer GA pilots every day?

    We’re living catch-22 on a daily basis. This goes beyond aviation, and no amount of imploring that Americans divest their innate sense of personal freedom and follow security mandates is going to change it – sorry to say. In fact, if we look to child psychology, it’s easy to understand why:

    – Get a briefing!
    – Take your shoes off!
    – No more than 3oz of liquids!
    – Turn off anything with an on/off sswitch until we reach 10,000 feet!
    – Don’t put thumb drives in classified computer systems!

    These are all the adult equvalent of

    “Don’t touch that (hot stove).”


    “No, you can’t have a cookie (from that jar on the edge of the counter.)”

    In conclusion, everything we need to know about security mandated behavior … we learned in kindergarten. This model is never going to work, and the incentive to fix it is constrained by the intransigence of financial and legal realities.

    Classify the president’s location and stop putting the burden of securing his position on clueless pilots. That’s a model that would work. Too bad it will never happen. RIP Joe Heller.

  • Leon J.

    Mark, in his post, used another word that grates: “privilege”.

    As Kevin Roll said, the rights of U.S. citizens are not listed in the founding documents. Rather, it is the government’s rights and powers that are enumerated. Any power other than what is specifically listed is not authorized for the government.

    Privileges are granted, as by a King or other royalty. Flying is not a privilege, it is a regulated right. Any citizen who can demonstrate compliance with pilot regulations has the RIGHT to fly.

    Yes, I know the FAA uses the word privilege. That doesn’t make it so. And AOPA should push to stop the use of that word. Certainly we pilot citizens should not be duped into using it.

  • Sam Ferguson

    Its understandable for us all to be angry as we have empowered the political system to do what it has done (subsidize us to the point our freedom has been usurped). Anger accomplishes nothing. We the people,( not AOPA,) are responsible to dis-empower the monster we have created. Until then, file IFR or flight following. Vote for term limits, re-empower the people and let us, the people be responsible for our own stuff. The government was only intended to give us freedom and equal opportunity, not be our nanny.