Presidential visit clearing airspace

With President Barack Obama’s visit to Alaska only days away, local aircraft operators are preparing to adjust to temporary flight restrictions set by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Aircraft operations a considerable distance from the Anchorage, Seward, Dillingham and Kotzebue areas will be able to continue business as usual during the VIP visit. Certain air travelers within a 30-nautical-mile radius of the president during his visit, however, will have to adjust their flights or face legal or other consequences.

The FAA has released a flight advisory detailing the types of aircraft that can and can’t fly during the visit, and three temporary flight restrictions, TFR, for the Anchorage area for the duration of the trip. A TFR will be in place from 1 p.m. Monday through 11 a.m. Tuesday. Flights will also be restricted in Anchorage from 6:15 p.m. Tuesday to 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and again from 10:15-11:30 p.m. Wednesday.

While most commercial passenger and cargo planes will be able to fly on a regular schedule, smaller aircraft companies will have to shuffle their operations around.

Of the Kenai Municipal Airport’s two carriers, one will most likely not feel the effects of the president’s visit, but passengers trying to get from Kenai to Anchorage could face a change of plans.

“We’ll definitely have to cancel some flights, and those passengers, it might be hard for them, but it’s a pretty small range,” said Clare Ross, communications director for Grant Aviation. “(The TFR’s will) be on and off. We’re currently working with our customers to get them where they need to go.”

The Kenai Municipal Airport’s other carrier, Ravn Alaska, will not likely feel the effects of Obama’s visit, said Marketing Manager Charlotte Sieggreen. Ravn Alaska is a Part 121 aircraft carrier, which is not prohibited from operating under the flight restrictions, Sieggreen said.

“As far as I know right now, there shouldn’t be any effect,” Sieggreen said. “We’re going to comply with all federal regulations.”

In the event that TFRs change and some of Ravn’s flights are compromised, Sieggreen said passengers would be notified ahead of time and given options to change their flight plans.

Smaller aircraft companies, like Scenic Mountain Air based out of Upper Trail Lake in Moose Pass, will not be able to fly their planes while restrictions are in place. Scenic Mountain Air provides charter flights and tours of the Seward area, among others, and Dock Hand Danny Navarro said flight restrictions could hamper both the seaplane business and flight training operations.

“It’s a flight restriction and that is our business, so if that… radius does hit us, well then we’re shut down for the day.” he said. “We’ve got students here. We’re teaching people how to fly.”

In addition to flight lessons, Navarro said Scenic Mountain Air still receives quite a few “walk-ins” looking for tours at this time of year. While the business’s employees have yet to decide what they are going to do about the restrictions, Navarro said there is the potential to move the planes to a different lake outside the restricted radius. The FAA had not yet posted official TFRs for the Seward area as of Thursday evening.

According to the TFRs released for Anchorage, seaplanes are not specifically prohibited, but must go through a TSA screening process prior to takeoff. Aircraft operations specifically banned during Obama’s trip include parachuting, hang gliding, crop dusting, model aircraft flying, animal population control flights and unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, according to the FAA’s flight advisory.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game does not have any animal survey flights planned over the Kenai Peninsula during the president’s trip, and will therefore not be affected, said Jeff Selinger, an area biologist for the department based out of Soldotna.

In a statement released Wednesday, Rep. Shelley Hughes warned Alaskans who might be thinking of flying their drones that doing so will not be worth the risk.

“…If you’re thinking of catching a birds eye view of the VIP and dignitaries in downtown Anchorage or elsewhere using your hobby drone, don’t,” Hughes wrote. “We didn’t have a problem during the recent wildfire season like other states had, with drones interfering with firefighting flight missions. Let’s keep up our good track record.”

The United States Government can take civil or criminal action against people or pilots who disregard the TFRs, including “deadly force against the airborne aircraft, if it is determined that the aircraft poses an imminent security threat,” according to the flight advisory.

Pilots are encouraged to check the FAA’s “notices to airmen” frequently, since TFRs can change, according to the advisory. For a full list of TFRs, visit bit.ly/Alaskatfr.

 

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com

 

 

 

 

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