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Training Tip: Taking attendance at TFRs

You can’t have every possible fact at your fingertips for the oral portion of your private pilot practical test, but you should be able to look up answers if your designated pilot examiner poses a challenging question.

The DPE—who after all is a pilot tuned in to the buzz in the general aviation community—might probe your knowledge of topics that tend to raise recurring doubts or confusion, and that raises the question: “Are you ready for some (airspace-restricted) football?”

Being ready means knowing what to expect if, say, your planned flight crosses one of certain large sports venues while a big game or event is in progress. Heinz Field, where the Steelers play, has a seating capacity of 68,400 (all with cup holders!). For NFL games played there, pilots can expect a notam for a temporary flight restriction (TFR) to be in effect.

Check before every flight for specifics, but you can demonstrate to your DPE that you are aware that there is a “stadium notam” that defines general “restrictions below 3,000 feet agl within a three-[nautical-mile] radius of any stadium having a seating capacity of 30,000 or more people” where Major League Baseball, National Football League, NCAA Division I football, or major motor speedway events are taking place. “These restrictions begin one hour before the scheduled start time of the event and expire one hour after the end of the event,” notes the AOPA Air Safety Institute Safety Advisor Airspace for Everyone.

Wait a minute (the DPE might counter, echoing many pilots): There’s a coronavirus pandemic raging right now. Spectator attendance at pro sports events is mostly curtailed, so does the stadium rule still apply?

It does. The FAA addressed the issue during its August 20 Aeronautical Information Optimization Summit. “In short, the TFR is, and has always been, based on stadium or venue capacity, not the actual number of fans in attendance,” AOPA’s Pilot Information Center explained, addressing such an inquiry online.

Another background resource on this topic is an FAA pilot’s guide to airspace restrictions. It notes on Pages 3 and 4 that sporting events are among activities that may temporarily subject airspace to “defense area” status, activating special security instructions under FAR 99.7.

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