Pilots are flying into restricted airspace over Donald Trump's Florida estate, at their peril

At least 27 aircraft have violated a temporary restriction on the airspace near Donald Trump's estate.
FAIRFAX

At least 27 aircraft have violated a temporary restriction on the airspace near Donald Trump's estate.

Some pilots just aren't getting the message: They can't come and go as they please across South Florida's sky any time the president is in town.

Since last month, at least 27 aircraft have violated a temporary restriction on the airspace near Donald Trump's estate in Palm Beach, officials say.

And it's going to take some time and heartache for South Florida's aviation community to get used to it, aviation experts say.

It's going to take some time and heartache for South Florida's aviation community to get used to Trump's presence.
CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS

It's going to take some time and heartache for South Florida's aviation community to get used to Trump's presence.

When President George W Bush visited his ranch near Dallas at the beginning of his presidency in 2001, there was a learning curve for pilots who "went out flying on a Saturday and didn't check," said aviation attorney and former US Air Force officer David Norton of Dallas.

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A commercial plane flies over Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate.
CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS

A commercial plane flies over Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate.

If aviators don't comply, they'll be stunned to see a fighter pilot hanging off their wing, he said.

"The flying community will get used to it and they need to be careful: It can really catch you off guard," he said.

With Trump using Mar-a-Lago as his winter White House, South Florida faces becoming "real quiet" on weekends for flights, said Janet Marnane, a former Navy flight officer during the Cold War.

If aviators don't comply, they'll be stunned to see a fighter pilot hanging off their wing.
MICHAEL FIALA/REUTERS

If aviators don't comply, they'll be stunned to see a fighter pilot hanging off their wing.

"These pilots are not used to having so many (restrictions) in this area, but they are going to get used to it real fast," said Marnane, an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.

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"It is going to be the new normal, but only on the weekends."

The US's aviation administration says it will continue trying "to educate local pilots," sending out social-media announcements and meeting with pilots at South Florida airports.

A Coast guardsman outside Trump's estate in Palm Beach.
JOE SKIPPER/REUTERS

A Coast guardsman outside Trump's estate in Palm Beach.

Trump's return to Palm Beach County is his fourth weekend visit to South Florida since becoming president.

There other three were back-to-back in February.

Each time he visits, pilots within a 48-kilometre ring of his mansion must abide by the rules - or risk having Air Force fighter jets on their tail.

The president's visits to Mar-a-Lago in February led to dozens of aviators violating the airspace restrictions.

From February 3 to February 5, there were 10 violations.

There were three violations from February 10 to February 12.

And another 14 pilots found themselves in violation between February 17 and February 20.

The air administration hasn't released the names of those dozens who violated airspace restrictions. It also has declined to elaborate about each case.

Pilots violating a restricted space might get off with a warning, but presidential-related restrictions likely will lead to a license suspension, Norton said.

Violators, after being forced to land, will "be met by Secret Service and you are going to spend many hours explaining why you were there," Norton said.

Michael Kucharek, a spokesman for North American Aerospace Defense Command, based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, said pilots doing an interception often try to get a pilot's attention with visual hand signals.

If that fails, they'll "rock the wings," which means the military jet will fly in front for attention and sway to each side signalling for the pilot to follow.

Another attention-grabbing method: The release of flares that are "essentially dropped in front of the pilot if all these other things don't work," he said.

Shooting down a plane "remains an option" although "that would be a very bad day," he said.

 - MCT

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