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A big tradition here in Louisville is "Thunder Over Louisville". This starts the celebration for the Kentucky Derby. 'Thunder' is an airshow, fireworks, fair, concerts, and a nice day out along the river. This event leads to the closure of bridges over the Ohio River. Some closures are brief, such as I-65. Others are days long because fireworks and other aspects of the theatrics are positioned there.

We have a new pedestrian bridge called "The Big Four Bridge" which was opened very recently. This bridge is closed despite being a very obvious attraction to attendees and it can ease car traffic by allowing foot traffic across the river. There are many notices that this bridge is closed, but none of them cite the authority that closed the bridge.

Does the FAA hold sufficient authority to close bridges, roadways, or other locations for an airshow?

If so, what resources should I use to locate these closure notices?

This question is simply a curiosity. There are many logical reasons for the 'Thunder' organizers, local police, state police, and the FAA to close the pedestrian bridge. I want to learn more about what authority the FAA specifically would have in this matter just for the sake of learning.

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  • $\begingroup$ when it's an event run by the local authorities it's them that will decide which bridge to close based on requirements of the participants (which may or may not include the FAA not wanting to blow people off the bridge with to jetblast). $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Apr 20 '17 at 13:20
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting question, especially since I live in Louisville. Unfortunately the weather forecast for Saturday is terrible :-( $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Apr 20 '17 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ I imagine the airshow must be really loud... $\endgroup$ – kevin Apr 20 '17 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Pondlife - Might be worth going, the rain should slack off later in the day. It'll make for a lousy airshow, but thinner crowds and the fireworks are different under a cloud layer. $\endgroup$ – Freiheit Apr 20 '17 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ @kevin - I don't think so. It's loud from the crowds but I don't recall the airshow noise being any better or worse than say the Dayton airshow. The view is spectacular though, the aircraft almost seem like a promotional film with the various city sights as a backdrop and the festival atmosphere. $\endgroup$ – Freiheit Apr 20 '17 at 16:56
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The FAA has no authority over roads, bridges or any other public roads. Usually, it's the the event organizer who's responsible for requesting and coordinating road closures; think of triathlons, parades etc. And even without the FAA, there are very good reasons for the local police to close the bridges: rubbernecking and accidents caused by distracted drivers; keeping people safe when fireworks are set off from the bridges and so on.

But, at least in theory the FAA could indirectly require road closures as part of an airshow waiver.

Most airshows require a waiver, i.e. permission from the FAA to 'ignore' certain regulations. The list of regulations that can be waived is in 14 CFR 91.905 and you can immediately see why some of them would be waived for an airshow. These ones in particular seem very relevant:

91.111 Operating near other aircraft.
91.117 Aircraft speed.
91.119 Minimum safe altitudes: General.
91.303 Aerobatic flights.

The full instructions for issuing a waiver are long and detailed but there are lots of requirements to ensure minimum distance between aircraft and spectators, and to ensure that the energy vectors of aerobatic maneuvers are not directed towards crowds.

I haven't been to Thunder yet so I don't know to what extent the aircraft actually maneuver vs. flying in stable formation down the river. But, it's at least very plausible that the FAA has issued an airshow waiver requiring a minimum distance from spectators that can only be guaranteed if some of the bridges are closed. And, if the park area around River Road is the main spectator area, then any aerobatic maneuvers would have to direct their energy vectors along the river, i.e. towards the bridges. That could require the airshow organizers to request that the bridges be closed.

Unfortunately I couldn't find out if airshow waivers are public or not (a quick search on faa.gov didn't find any) so I don't know if it's possible to check which FAA regulations have been waived for Thunder, or what conditions they placed on the organizers.

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  • $\begingroup$ I saw the Red Bull Air Race in Detroit where it's held above the Detroit River, across which is Windsor, Canada. I wonder if 91.707 Flights between Mexico or Canada and the United States was waived for that :P $\endgroup$ – Nick T Apr 20 '17 at 18:23
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The FAA definitely has problems with the bridges. They don't have authority to close bridges, but they do have authority to refuse the waiver contingent upon things they feel are not safe.

It started while the bridge was under construction. They almost didn't approve the waiver due to the cranes. Apparently they were satisfied when the fire dept was able to put flags on them to make them more visible.

Last year they wouldn't approve a "box" big enough for the USAF Thunderbirds to do their maneuvers. And it seems that now the bridge is there they probably won't ever approve enough room for the T-Birds.

So, it would appear that the bridge closure is a compromise with the FAA.

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  • $\begingroup$ It seems that, according to this accepted answer the military can ignore, to a certain extent, FAA regulations. It's too bad they can't/won't do so in this case... $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Apr 20 '17 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ @FreeMan I suppose at a technical level the military could change their rules but the T-Birds specify that they need an FAA waiver. In this document they indicate specifically what rules they need waived and all the airspace and ground accommodations they require. They're pretty particular about such things $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Apr 20 '17 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ As they say, FAA regulations are written in blood. FAA regulations in relation to airshows, in particular, are written in lots of blood, a significant portion of which was spilled by military display teams (think of Ramstein, for example). I guess it would be pretty bad PR if they just said "hey, you know all those rule you created because of all those people that were killed by military airshows? We're just gonna ignore those, since we're the military." $\endgroup$ – Jörg W Mittag Apr 20 '17 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ OK, valid points, guys. Just disappointing for those in attendance. Fortunately, Dayton isn't too far from here, so there should always be a good air show available. $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Apr 20 '17 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ @FreeMan I wonder if the city took that into consideration before building that bridge. My guess is they had no idea. They were probably thinking, "this will be an awesome place to watch the air show from." $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Apr 20 '17 at 20:15
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No, the FAA does not have the authority to close a bridge, roadway, or other general public item outside of an airport or airspace.

The appropriate regulations are 14 CFR 91.303

Aerobatic flight.

No person may operate an aircraft in aerobatic flight--
(a) Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement;
(b) Over an open air assembly of persons;
(c) Within the lateral boundaries of the surface areas of Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E airspace designated for an airport;
(d) Within 4 nautical miles of the center line of any Federal airway;
(e) Below an altitude of 1,500 feet above the surface; or
(f) When flight visibility is less than 3 statute miles.

For the purposes of this section, aerobatic flight means an intentional maneuver involving an abrupt change in an aircraft's attitude, an abnormal attitude, or abnormal acceleration, not necessary for normal flight.

I've highlighted the appropriate parts of the regulation that would require a bridge to be closed, however the FAA does not actually do the closing. The show organizers need to coordinate with local/state officials (depending on if it is a local or state controlled road) to have the correct area's closed off so that the show does not violate the regulations.

There is a waiver process as noted in Pondlife's answer but I don't believe the FAA will issue waivers for (a) and (b). The most usual waiver is probably for (c) and (e).

So, in short, the FAA cannot close the roads, however it can regulate the airshow which would require the organizers to abide by the FAR's. How they close it is up to them, but it is the organizers responsibility to ensure that the FAR's are not violated.

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