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Regarding the recently announced TFR for the Ferguson, MO area, what is the process by which such a TFR is granted?

The official reason given is "TO PROVIDE A SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITIES", however, there has been significant commentary on social media arguing that this may be a politically-motivated act to prevent the media from scrutinizing the actions of law enforcement (for instance here).

As far as I know, there is no (public) information regarding threats to airborne vehicles, and despite some initial reports most of the protests in the area have been peaceful. I'd like to assume that this TFR was created for legitimate, non-political reasons.

Is it common for the FAA to grant a TFR like this to local police? What is the process by which this is done? What criteria are considered by the FAA in determining whether such a TFR is warranted?


For the sake of posterity, the full text of the TFR NOTAM is:

!FDC 4/0271 ZKC MO..
AIRSPACE FERGUSON, MO..
TEMPORARY FLIGHT RESTRICTIONS. WITHIN AN AREA DEFINED AS 3 NM RADIUS OF 
384428N0901812W (ST LOUIS VORTAC STL129011.0) SFC-3000FT TO PROVIDE A SAFE 
ENVIRONMENT FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITIES. PURSUANT TO 14 CFR SECTION 
91.137(A)(1) TEMPORARY FLIGHT RESTRICTIONS (TFR) ARE IN EFFECT. ONLY AIRCRAFT 
PERMITTED UNDER THE PROVISIONS OF 14 CFR 91.137(B) ARE ALLOWED TO OPERATE IN 
THIS 91.137(A)(1) TFR. THESE AIRCRAFT MUST BE OPERATING UNDER THE DIRECTION OF
THE UNIFIED COMMAND AT THE ST. LOUIS EMERGENCY OPERATIONS CENTER AND MUST 
CONTACT THE MID-AMERICA AIR OPERATIONS BRANCH AT TELEPHONE 636-825-9341 OR 
636-825-9342 FOR PERMISSION TO ENTER THE TFR PRIOR TO DEPARTURE. ST.LOUIS 
GATEWAY TRACON, TELEPHONE 314-890-1017, IS THE FAA COORDINATION FACILITY. 
MEDIA CONCERNS REGARDING THIS TFR SHOULD BE DIRECTED TO FAA PUBLIC AFFAIRS 
THROUGH THE WASHINGTON OPERATIONS CENTER AT 202-267-3333. 1411250415-1411251015
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  • $\begingroup$ Hi chouchand, I've removed two sentences from your question in the hope of keeping focus on the question rather than the event. Feel free to modify or revert if you feel that those sentences are necessary to understanding the question. $\endgroup$ – Steve V. Aug 13 '14 at 0:02
  • $\begingroup$ @SteveV. thanks, great edit. $\endgroup$ – couchand Aug 13 '14 at 12:13
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TFRs around "volatile situations" on the ground aren't a daily occurrence, but they do happen fairly frequently.

The concerns are usually twofold: Events on the ground posing a hazard to aircraft (people shining lasers at aircraft, firing guns at them, etc.), and aircraft posing hazards to each other (News 2, News 4, News 11, and Police helicopters all wanting to cover the same area at the same time and smacking into each other).

There are procedures in effect for agencies to request TFRs, and for the FAA to review them. These are covered in detail in FAA JO 7210.3Y, Chapter 19. Particularly relevant to this situation is 19-2-5 (e): "TFRs issued for law enforcement activities require approval from the ATO Director of System Operations Security (or designee)." - a relatively high level of approval intended to safeguard against the use of TFRs to, for example, keep the media away.


In the case of Ferguson the regulatory basis for the TFR is cited as FAR 91.137(a)(1) (to protect persons and property on the surface or in the air from a hazard associated with an incident on the surface), so presumably their major concern is laser illumination or weapons fire from the ground, and the potential for such incidents to cause a surprised pilot to crash into a building or crowd of people.

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  • $\begingroup$ I suspect you've hit the nail with mentioning news helicopters. They probably don't want to have twenty of them in the area in case something happens and they need a police or emergency one get there. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Nov 25 '14 at 13:40
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It is quite common for TFRs to be issued over natural disasters, like hurricanes and tornadoes. In many cases they specifically state that they are issued to keep pilots who are not part of the relief operation from clogging the airspace. They are less frequent for incidents like this, but I have seen them before. There have been reports on Twitter and the media that shots have been fired at police helicopters, so that could be the motivation in this case to restrict the airspace.

The TFR itself says that the reason is “TO PROVIDE A SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITIES” and I have no reason to doubt it.

What is a bit puzzling about the TFR in this case is that it is in Class B airspace where controllers could presumably keep everyone away anyway. It also covers part of the St Louis airport. It would be interesting to know how that plays out. I guess this just makes it explicit that it could be dangerous.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is it still B all the way to the ground (I wanted to check on skyvector, but it's boycotting me right now)? It's not that close to the (international) airport. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Nov 25 '14 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ Its pretty close to the airport, the TFR is inside the Class B surface volume. $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Nov 25 '14 at 17:19

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