PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
Sometimes you need pilots to talk to pilots.
Working under this premise, three pilots from North American Aerospace Defense Command, the binational U.S. and Canadian military organization charged with intercepting aircraft that violate temporary flight restrictions, attended the AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wis., July 23 - 29, to talk face-to-face with general aviation pilots on how to avoid TFRs and what to do if they're intercepted.
General aviation aircraft make up the majority of over fifteen hundred intercepts NORAD has made since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and the command is attempting to cut down that number through outreach and education programs.
"The ultimate goal of the pilot outreach is to educate civilian pilots on how to avoid TFRs and on what they should do if intercepted," said Lt. Col. Kevin Roethe, one of the NORAD officers who conducts the outreach operations."
"These intercepts are at great expense to the taxpayer and effectively reduce our readiness for actual threats to the nation, not to mention a big inconvenience to the civilian pilot being forced to land and met by federal agents," he said. "By attending air shows, we put a face to the NORAD operations and emphasize the importance of properly preparing for a flight, which includes checking for TFRs."
Roethe said the face-to-face aspect was important, and that while some pilots seemed suspicious at first, it didn't take long for them to establish bonds over their common aviation backgrounds.
"Initially they were put off, wondering why NORAD pilots were coming over to their airplane," Roethe said. "After joking with them and retelling war stories, they were very receptive. By sharing our passion for flying, and the clear guidelines for safety, we influence the pilot population to understand we are there to help them stay out of trouble."
Roethe, Col Geoff Maki, NORAD Operations Division chief, and Lt. Col. Ray Bonita, NORAD Operations Senior Air Defense Liasion, spent the air show speaking one-on-one with pilots and conducting briefings on avoiding TFRs and intercept procedures. They also gave the pilots information designed to be referenced in-flight with instructions on what to do if intercepted. The briefings were also broadcast over the internet through the Federal Aviation Administration's website www.FAAsafety.gov.
"We try to leave them with three main things," Roethe explained. "Most importantly, pilots need to check for the TFRs along their route of flight and stay in radio contact with air traffic controllers. We also emphasize how to avoid penetrating prohibited areas like Camp David and the requirements for entering U.S airspace, including the procedures for crossing the Air Defense Identification Zones. We finish with what to do if they are intercepted by a NORAD fighter or helicopter. There's more to it than just apologizing - there are specific FAA procedures to follow."
This wasn't the first time NORAD has sent pilots out to brief civilians on how to avoid being intercepted.
According to Douglas Dal Soglio, NORAD Operations Outreach Coordinator, the command reached thousands of pilots through briefings at the annual AirVenture and Sun 'n Fun Fly-in's. In addition, the Continental NORAD Region at Tyndall AFB and Civil Air Patrol provide posters to fixed base operators alerting pilots that a TFR will be active near their location. He said the NORAD outreach efforts are working.
"The rate of violations we've seen over the last nine years has gone down, but more can be done," Dal Soglio said.
The team is capitalizing on the whole of government effort, including collaborating with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and other government and industry leaders to reach and educate more pilots.
"Our goal is prevention through education," he said. "We have credibility because we share their love of flying, and try to inject humor and comradery to make a lasting impression. The true difference will be told when there are fewer TFR, prohibited area and ADIZ violations and a reduction in NORAD scrambles against general aviation aircraft."
Additional information concerning TFRs can be found on the FAA's website at http://tfr.faa.gov
or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/FAANews
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