Monday, October 12, 2015

Good Call

"Good call man."

Those anonymous words were received over the 121.8 frequency as N6641M headed south yesterday, transporting me to a Sunday visit with Mom.

President Obama was in Southern California and when the President is in town the aviation equivalent of a rat maze is created by Federal fiat.

These are called Temporary Flight Restrictions.

TFRs, particularly presidential TFRs, can seem complex because the times and geographies vary, and can change at a moment's notice.

There's a TFR out there, somewhere...
And every single time a TFR comes into existence there are several general aviation pilots that get a wing-side visit from an Air National Guard F-16 and a radio command from Air Traffic Control (if they're in communication with ATC) to write down a phone number.

The Federal Aviation Administration is one of the most powerful and broad reaching regulatory authorities in America, and the security of the President takes a higher priority than nearly anything else, including flight safety by some Schmoe in a Cessna.

Busting a TFR can result in significant punishment, including revocation of the airman's certificate from the unwary pilot.

It's not a friendly spot to be in.

But TFRs are just rules, and they are always written (albeit sometimes they need some legal interpretation) and widely distributed by known publications, including by the FAA itself. Though it may take some extra time in the flight planning stage, TFRs aren't hard to find out or figure out.

However, because the enforcement rules are draconian, I leave nothing for chance when I am flying during a period when TFRs are active in the area.

Sunday's TFR engulfed Oceanside's Bob Maxwell field just on the fringes of a 30 mile ring centered off the Mission Bay VORTAC.

The normal Sunday "traffic jam" that is Southern California skies was non-existent south of Long Beach, the radio abnormally quiet. I presumed that the Presidential TFR kept more than a few general aviation operators on the ground despite Ceilings And Visibility Unlimited.

And that was fine by me - less to worry about. Except whether or not ATC in fact recognized that I was on an active VFR flight plan, destination Oceanside.

I mentioned that TFRs are just rules. Because they are just rules, they define how to operate within the TFR, and generally anyone can do so as long as the aircraft is on a flight plan, either instrument or visual, and acquires a discreet transponder code prior to entering the TFR area.

The rule uses many more words to say that, but what I described is the bottom line - so I departed Oxnard on a Visual Flight Rules plan (something I haven't done since flight school - usually I will just fly under an instrument plan). Oxnard isn't equipped to issue me a transponder code, and Point Mugu's radar was out of service in the morning, so I opened my plan and acquired my code with the first sector of SoCal - 134.2 mhz.

After passing through the Los Angeles corridor I wanted to be sure I was following the rules, because ATC won't warn you if you are about to enter a TFR. Sort of like a mouse trap type of game - though ATC is part of the FAA's function, for some reason it is NOT ATC's function to warn unsuspecting pilots that they are about to enter a TFR - then, boom, the pilot gets a visit from circling F-16s and a command to take down a number.

Even when queried, ATC is rather vague and un-authoritative - I guess because the communications are all recorded and they don't want to say anything that will get THEM in trouble.

So I asked the 121.8 controller if I was on an active VFR flight plan, "because I don't want to bust the Presidential TFR." The controller responded with a "let me see" and a "what's your destination."

See? That kind of communication makes one a little suspicious that things aren't what I thought they were - because the flight plan clearly states that my final destination is KOKB (Oceanside) and my cruise altitude was 5,500, etc.

And after about 10 seconds ATC responded with an "affirmative." That's all. Nothing more to indicate that in fact I was "legal."

That's when I got the anonymous accolade (which by the way, inflated my pride and ego - pilots don't usually hand out compliments like that in the air over public frequencies).

Workers' compensation, particularly California work comp, is widely derided for its complex set of codes and regulations. In fact, I'm willing to bet that the "Blue Book," LexisNexus' compilation of California law, is actually more voluminous that the applicable aviation US Code and Federal Aviation Regulations.

Sometimes one has to check with the authorities to make sure there is compliance, and sometimes to test the validity of the rule against the body of law against which it was created.

California lien law went through this process with the passage of SB 863 and the imposition of fees for filing a lien or activating a previously filed lien.

The courts have spoken, at least the jurisdictions queried so far, that the scheme imposed by SB 863 and resulting regulations is, in fact, legal, constitutional, and effective.

The United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week said, "affirmative" after a request for rehearing.

Presumptively the 9th Circuit will return the case to Judge Wu at the federal trial level and Wu will determine the grace period for lien claimants to "activate" their liens with a $100 payment to the state if they wish to pursue lien enforcement. The court has 7 days from denial of the rehearing request to do so.

Under SB 863, all liens with unpaid activation fees shall be dismissed as a matter of law as of Jan. 1, 2014. Judge Wu will need to decide if there is a grace period, and if so, how long.

So far the Angelotti case did not turn out the way the plaintiff lien claimants had hoped, and there is still more appellate room to maneuver in, though flying in that airspace is getting more and more expensive and the "TFR rings" more convoluted.

And while certainly there is more litigation to be had concerning SB 863's heavy handed way of dealing with liens, the parties have queried the system. They don't have to write down a phone number. It was a "good call" though the answer wasn't what they wanted to hear.

Now it's time to go through the landing check list; the airport is in sight...

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