The Sporting Event Temporary Flight Restriction
Skydiving Innovations (“SI”), formed in 1986, is an aerial entertainment company that provides professional skydiving shows and entertainment, among other services. The company performs nationwide, and also serves as the exclusive provider of skydiving entertainment for the USS Midway Museum in San Diego and the Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, CA, where special event clients hire SI to perform thrilling exhibitions for their public and private events. Skydiving Innovations is incident/accident/claim-free in all 34 years of operation.
THE TFR ISSUE DEFINED:
Whenever there are regular season or playoff games scheduled at any MLB, NFL or NCAA Division 1 stadium, or NASCAR Sprint Cup, Indy Car, and Champ Series races scheduled at tracks, the airspace within a 3.0 NM radius of the stadium, venue or track is subject to an FAA Temporary Flight Restriction from one hour before to one hour after the event. (FDC NOTAM 3/1862, then FDC NOTAM 9/5151, then FDC NOTAM 4/3621). This restriction was codified in Federal Law in 2003, and then, in 2004, amended to be even more restrictive. This law is known simply as “The Stadium TFR” or as “The Sporting Event TFR”. With MLB games alone, there are 2,430 instances of this TFR in effect during just the regular season. With NFL games, there are an additional 256 instances of the TFR.
OUR CONNECTION TO THE SPORTING EVENT TEMPORARY FLIGHT RESTRICTION (“TFR”):
Petco Park, the San Diego Padres Major League Baseball Team home stadium, sits 1.1 nautical miles from the USS Midway and 2.0 NM from the Hotel del Coronado. During all Stadium TFR’s around Petco Park in San Diego, Skydiving Innovations is prohibited from using the airspace for its skydiving show operations at the USS Midway Museum and the Hotel del Coronado. (All air-carrier, military, first-responder, law enforcement and emergency services are unaffected by the TFR.) For MLB stadiums, this TFR is in effect on at least 81 dates from the beginning of April until the end of September.
Waivers to the TFR are available under specific, limited circumstances. If you are a team owner, you can get a waiver to fly your friends and family in on a helicopter or have equipment flown in. If you are the broadcast rights holder for the game or event, you can get a waiver to have your broadcast aircraft in the TFR. If you are a parachute team or an airshow or fly-by act requested to perform by the team or stadium AT THE STADIUM, you too can apply for and receive a waiver to the TFR so long as you also have the required FAA Certificate of Authorization for your activity. You must also have a “verification” or “authorization” letter from the team or stadium owner verifying that they have requested your performance. However, if you are any other legitimate commercial entity relying on the use of the airspace to conduct business operations, you cannot access it for any reason whatsoever, even when the local FAA authorities issue a Certificate of Authorization for your activity.
The effect of the TFR on our business operations: Due to their proximity to Petco Park, whenever Skydiving Innovations has been requested to perform an aerial demonstration at the USS Midway or Hotel del Coronado when a TFR is in effect, it has had to decline the business. Since the beginning of its agreement with the USS Midway in 2005 and the Hotel del Coronado in 2014, Skydiving Innovations has had to decline 62 performance requests between the two venues, (mostly at the USS Midway), specifically due to the TFR in place during San Diego Padre home games. Because many SI clients request us to reserve dates and times for their performances up to a year or more in advance, and the MLB regular season schedule is usually not released until mid-September, it is impossible to know if a TFR will be in place on any given date between April 1 and September 30 when responding to most requests.
Waivers to the TFR:
Even if the event for which SI has been asked to perform is directly related to events or activities at Petco Park, or even if the operators of Petco Park have no objection to Skydiving Innovations operating over the USS Midway or Hotel del Coronado during the TFR hours, (we have asked for the Padres and Major League Baseball’s help and they have stated that in no uncertain terms, they will not help solve this problem), the law governing such TFR’s does not permit such latitude on the part of the TSA agents who process waiver requests and conduct background checks, or the the FAA’s System Operations Security Directorate/System Operations Support Center (SOSC) that actually issues approved waivers for skydiving and aircraft demonstrations at these sporting events. (Though, through Freedom of Information Act requests we have found numerous occasions when MLB teams have provided “verification letters” for helicopter companies to operate within the TFR for activities not in any way affiliated with the venue, and the FAA’s SOSC has, contrary to their own rules and regulations, granted waivers for these activities that do not qualify for approval.)
The Financial Impact: The TFR issue has cost Skydiving Innovations$500,000in lost revenue. (These are the show that clients requested and we had to turn down due to the TFR. This number does not include the clients who asked the USS Midway or Hotel del Coronado about using us for their events, but were told by the venues that we could not perform due to a Padre game schedule.) Due to the TFR, during the six-month MLB regular season each year, SI is turning away as many shows during that time as we are able to accept throughout the entire year. (Summer is the busiest season for skydiving performances in the United States.)
We are not the only aviation entity damaged by the TFR. Aerial tour companies (some with iconic and in-demand routes used for decades), helicopter operators conducting film/photo or heavy lift operations, commercial drone companies, airshows, flight schools, and air charter businesses are all prohibited from entering or utilizing these massive swaths of controlled national airspace during the TFR.
Important History – The Real Reason for the Sporting Event TFR – An Advertising Monopoly for MLB, NFL, NASCAR, NCAA and Disney.
In-stadium or on-property advertising, sponsorship and branding sales represent a significant source of revenue to professional sports teams, NCAA athletics, NASCAR and Disney parks (the “stakeholders”.) Until the TFR was created, these venues and businesses competed with banner tow advertising for the attention of spectators and visitors in their stadiums and parks. (“Eyeballs-on-ads”.) The TFR was the brainchild of lobbyists working for Disney and major league sports teams as a way to finally get rid of this far less expensive yet effective competitive form of advertising around their venues, essentially providing the venues with an advertising monopoly. Disney and sports teams struggled for decades trying to get rid of banner tow advertising around their venues and were largely unsuccessful, most importantly because the National Airspace is a public resource, and Congress appropriately believed that private interests should have no authority over its use. However, once the TFR legislation was enacted, it effectively wiped out all competition for eyeballs-on-ads of any signage except for that within or on the exterior of the stadiums, or on existing billboards that were visible from stadium seats. (Note that Disney’s TFR is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.)
How did they do it? With 9/11.
Using 9/11 as a fallacious argument that the TFR was needed to “protect people in these stadiums and venues”, lobbyists for Disney and the stadium and team owners were able to get legislation quietly passed to codify in law the wholesale privatization of national airspace within three nautical miles of these venues. This was successful in large measure by referring to the airspace as “National Defense Airspace” during the games and races. There was no FAA review or oversight of the proposed legislation as is otherwise always the case with legislation that affects the FAA, airspace use and national security, and the law was written with language that prevents it from ever being de-funded. As occurred in 2013, 2018 and 2019, there can be a government shutdown that shutters the departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, Interior, Transportation (including the FAA itself), State, Justice, Agriculture and Treasury, but enforcement of the Sporting Event TFR is unaffected.
What do MLB, NFL, NCAA, NASCAR and Disney (the “stakeholders”) say about the TFR?:
Stakeholder representatives and their lobbyists have been in lockstep when talking about this specious TFR. They continue to parrot the absurd idea that a TFR protects people from terrorists, as they know they can never admit publicly what everyone else (including FAA & TSA leadership and management) knows about the TFR: It is meaningless (and was never intended) as a deterrent to terrorists. It was only put in place to do away with banner tow advertising around stadiums and Disney theme parks, though its scatter-gun approach has done more harm than good by denying myriad commercial enterprises access to the national airspace. The idea that a person with malicious intent and willing to kill themselves in the act would be dissuaded from using an airplane to commit a terrorist act at a stadium or venue because there is a “law” (TFR) that denies them permission to enter the airspace defies logic and stretches credulity beyond the breaking point. Were that assertion true and by that logic, 9/11 would never have happened. The TFR is not about security and safety of people at these venues, which it cannot provide. It is, as with most things, about money.
What change are we asking for?:
Most importantly, we are NOT asking for the TFR to be abolished. What we DO want is what we have recommended for years:
Through the passage of common-sense legislation that amends Section 521 of Public Law 108-199 and the resulting TFR specifications, simply allow only legitimate commercial aviation users who apply for, qualify for and receive an FAA Certificate of Authorization for their activity to go through the TSA Waiver background check and be issued a waiver by SOSD, just as is the case for anyone being asked to perform AT one of these stadiums. In this scenario, only those operators who have both passed the TSA background check and received FAA authorization will receive a waiver and have legal access to the airspace. This is NO different than what occurs now for aviation activities taking place on behalf of the venue or sports team. As any waivered activity at these venues requires now, these authorized and waivered airspace users would then be in the FAA’s & TSA’s systems, and the air traffic control entities managing that airspace would receive notification of their aviation activity so it could be coordinated. Customary restrictions on flight routes, maximum permissible airspeeds, operations and altitudes would remain in effect, including NO overflight of any stadium or venue for which a TFR is in effect. In addition, and to ameliorate any concern on the part of the stakeholders, the venues would receive prior notification of any pending waivered activity scheduled within the TFR airspace around their stadiums. To further assuage any concerns, we support a requirement that these authorized and waivered airspace users maintain a minimum one-half nautical mile separation from the venue or stadium at all times, and that the time period they are authorized and waivered for should only be long enough to conduct their requested operation. (For each of our skydiving demonstrations, that would represent a period of only 15 – 20 minutes at most.) That said, the stadium, venue or team “stakeholders” cannot have any authority to “approve” or “disapprove” any activity taking place at locations outside their venues and not affiliated with their events. That would represent explicit privatization of national airspace. The Federal Government, through the actions of Federal Aviation Administration, has sole jurisdiction over use of the national airspace. (See https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/49/40103).
Update as of 9/22/2020:
- In conversations with a former member of the SOSC team, we were told that they interpret the public law as providing the sports teams/venues with the authority to approve access to the TFR airspace for activities not taking place at their stadium or venue, so long as the activity is for their “operational purposes”. (How is this not granting the sports teams authority over the use of National Airspace?) The example provided to us related to an actual situation that occurred: A helicopter company requested that the San Diego Padres provide a verification letter that would allow them to get a TFR waiver to enter the airspace, and land on the USS Midway Museum in order to drop off Girls Scouts for a cookie drive. The rationale provided to us was as follows: If the Padres considered that they might get a black eye by not “allowing” the Girl Scouts to have a helicopter land on the Midway, then it was for their (Padres) “operational purposes” to grant the request for the verification letter. This logic was also apparently applied to the other instances in which helicopters were allowed in to TFR airspace for the 2013 America’s Cup races in San Francisco (by the Giants stadium), and the helicopter allowed to enter in to the TFR during Red Sox games in order to film the Boston Marathon several years in a row.
- Helicopter tour operators in Las Vegas are permitted to conduct tour operations in the new Raiders Stadium TFR, despite the fact that such operators are not permitted to conduct tours in Sporting Event TFRs anywhere else in the nation. Yet, under a Letter of Agreement (“LOA”), these helicopter operators may conduct tours of the Las Vegas Strip and elsewhere within the TFR so long as they abide by the following stipulations:
- Strict Departure and Arrival Routes.
- Strict Flight Route Structure in the TFR.
- Must take off and land under ATC positive control.
- Must squawk a discreet code.
- No transitioning the area, and no loitering. (Although flying up and down the Strip in the TFR is, by definition, “loitering in the TFR”.)
By definition, this constitues a discriminatory application of the law. The simple answer is to either allow Skydiving Innovations to apply for and acquire waivers to use the airspace, (along with the requisite FAA Certificate of Authorization), or to allow the company to operate under an LOA that is similar in structure and requirement to the LOA provided to helicopter tour companies in Las Vegas.
What we propose are common-sense solutions to a problem and outright inequity that has plagued the commercial aviation industry for nearly twenty years, and has cost millions of dollars in economic opportunity to small aviation businesses. These solutions (or an appropriate derivative of them) will level the playing field while providing greater peace of mind that those using the airspace within a Sporting Event TFR are vetted and authorized, exactly as is required for any aviation activities performing AT these stadiums and venues now.
If your business has been affected by the Sporting Event TFR, you would like to work with us on this issue, or you have information that may assist us in our efforts to gain access to airspace, contact:
The “Sporting Event Temporary Flight Restriction” Notice to Airmen (“NOTAM”) states the following:
“Pursuant to 14 CFR section 99.7, special security instructions, commencing one hour before the scheduled time of the event until one hour after the end of the event. All aircraft operations; including parachute jumping, unmanned aircraft and remote-controlled aircraft, are prohibited within a 3NMR up to and including 3000ft AGL of any stadium having a seating capacity of 30,000 or more people where either a regular or post season Major League Baseball, National Football League, or NCAA division one football game is occurring. This NOTAM also applies to Nascar Sprint Cup, Indy Car, and Champ Series races excluding qualifying and pre-race events.”
Read the full text of the NOTAM here: https://www.faa.gov/uas/resources/policy_library/media/Sports_TFR-UAS_Handout.pdf
The actual language in Section 521 of Public Law 108-199:
SEC. 521. (a) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary of Transportation—
(1) shall, without regard to any fiscal year limitation, maintain in full force and effect the restrictions imposed under Federal Aviation Administration Notices to Airmen FDC 3/2122, FDC 3/2123, and FDC 2/0199; and
(2) may not grant any waivers or exemptions from such restrictions, except—
(A) as authorized by air traffic control for operational or safety purposes;
(B) with respect to an event, stadium, or other venue—
(i) for operational purposes;
(ii) for the transport of team members, officials of the governing body, and immediate family members and guests of such team members and officials to and from such event, stadium, or venue;
(iii) in the case of a sporting event, for the transport of equipment or parts to and from such sporting event;
(iv) to permit a broadcast rights holder to provide broadcast coverage of such event, stadium, or venue;
(v) for safety and security purposes related to such event, stadium, or venue; and
(C) to allow the operation of an aircraft in restricted airspace to the extent necessary to arrive at or depart from an airport using standard air traffic control procedures.
(b) LIMITATIONS ON USE OF FUNDS.—None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by title I of this Act may be obligated or expended to terminate or limit the restrictions imposed under the Federal Aviation Administration Notices to Airmen referred to in subsection (a), or to grant waivers of, or exemptions from, such restrictions except as provided under subsection (a)(2).
(c) BROADCAST CONTRACTS NOT AFFECTED.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect contractual rights pertaining to any broadcasting agreement.
WHO WE ARE:
Skydiving Innovations (SI) is a professional demonstration skydiving company. Formed in 1986 by civilian owners Ron and Todd Lee, the company develops and executes thrilling customized skydiving shows for public and private events. To date, Skydiving Innovations has performed hundreds of demonstrations, and maintains an incident/accident/claim-free record. The team is staffed by the most experienced professionally-rated demonstration skydivers, the majority of them current or retired members of the US Navy’s elite Naval Special Warfare department of Navy SEALs and SWCCs. While SI has conducted some of the most thrilling and inspirational aerial demonstrations, it also holds the distinction of having planned and executed the largest demonstration jump in any US metropolitan area.
Since 1986, Skydiving Innovations has worked directly with myriad FAA Flight Standards District Offices (“FSDO”) throughout the United States to gain authorization for and coordinate its skydiving show operations, no more so than with the San Diego FSDO office. SI has never been denied an authorization to conduct a skydiving demonstration or any other aerial activity. The company maintains a stellar record and relationship with all FAA offices it deals with, and has served as a point of contact and source of counsel and expertise to the FSDO staff regarding demonstration skydiving in the region. Three SI team members, including Ron Lee, serve as US Parachute Association Safety and Training Advisors. Ron Lee serves on the San Diego Airport Advisory Committee.