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FAA restricts stadium flyovers again

In response to the “orange” state of alert announced last week by Office of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has rescinded waivers issued to pilots that allowed them to fly below 3,000 feet over major sporting events in spite of a general restriction against such flyovers.

The agency rescinded all waivers of the temporary flight restrictions (TFR) “until further notice.” Planes and blimps will not be allowed to fly lower than 3,000 feet above Michigan Stadium during football games as they did for the first two home games.

The rule essentially will discourage most small aircraft from flying over stadiums nationwide. It is unclear how long the current policy will last.

A coalition of sports interests, including the NCAA Division 1-A Athletic Directors, the National Football League and Major League Baseball, has been lobbying the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and key members of Congress for months to stop the waivers, arguing that they undo the protections provided by the FAA restrictions. TSA officials have indicated they will tighten the waiver process if the nation’s alert status goes back to “yellow” from “orange” as determined by the Homeland Security Office. The coalition has urged that the restrictions be enforced without waivers.

University officials have expressed safety concerns for years about small planes towing banners near the stadium, and last fall they urged action on security grounds in the wake of the terrorist attacks of last Sept. 11. The FAA issued the original TFR banning aircraft from flying below 3,000 feet or within 3 nautical miles of sports venues. It was later learned that the FAA was issuing waivers of those restrictions.

“This decision will give our fans some relief. All along, the fans and season ticket holders have been very concerned about the banner-carrying planes and the potential safety issues they present,” says Bill Martin, the Donald R. Shepherd Director of Intercollegiate Athletics. “We had lethal weapons flying around in the sky and we are telling women they can’t bring their purses through the gates. Certainly, we want a long-term solution, but we are happy with the FAA’s decision.”


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