This is not merely a blunder. Beyond ingloriously ending their flight flanked by fighter jets, there are legal implications for pilots who fail to conduct a thorough analysis of their planned route.
FAR 91.103, “Preflight action,” is simple yet concise: “Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight.”
That’s it in a nutshell. Fortunately, the FAA’s Advisory Circular AC 91-92, titled “Pilot’s Guide to a Preflight Briefing,” provides further guidance.
The AC categorizes notams and temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) under the term “aeronautical information,” which is a condensed version of the regulation’s language “all available information concerning that flight.” So, checking notams before takeoff is not an option—it is an expectation.
Notams are unpublished “temporary changes to services, components, or hazards in the National Airspace System,” according to AC 91-92, emphasizing their significance in the preflight briefing. Additionally, the AC directs pilots to the FAA’s notam search website to identify notices that may affect their flight path. AOPA members can view notams using iFlightPlanner when requesting a weather briefing.
What happens when a pilot does not check notams, and busts restricted airspace?
According to AOPA Deputy General Counsel Jared Allen, “A pilot could face consequences such as an FAA Compliance Action, a certificate suspension or revocation, fines, or even criminal penalties. However, an unintentional, simple mistake by a pilot with no violation history should be a candidate for the FAA’s Compliance Program, which uses tools like counseling and remedial training to address the root cause of the violation instead of enforcement action.
“On the other hand, a pilot who knowingly or willfully violates a TFR classified as national defense airspace may be subject to criminal penalties under 49 USC § 46307.”
Although contacting flight service for a preflight briefing is not mandatory, it is strongly recommended for two reasons. First, notams can contain confusing wording; calling flight service allows pilots to seek clarification. Second, flight service maintains a call log that can be used to verify that the pilot exercised reasonable care in the event of an incursion or incident.
— by AOPA Aviation Technical Writer Terrie Mead