If Trump Is Traveling And A Pilot Strays, Fighter Jets Will Follow Traveling U.S. presidents get a flight restriction with a radius that spans 30 nautical miles. When pilots fly inside that airspace, they risk being intercepted by the Air Force.
NPR logo

If Trump Is Traveling And A Pilot Strays, Fighter Jets Will Follow

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/518861719/522151965" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
If Trump Is Traveling And A Pilot Strays, Fighter Jets Will Follow

If Trump Is Traveling And A Pilot Strays, Fighter Jets Will Follow

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/518861719/522151965" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has taken enormous precaution to keep planes away from sensitive places. That includes the White House or wherever the president happens to be. But recreational pilots sometimes stray into restricted airspace. The Federal Aviation Administration says it's already happened 38 times near Mar-a-Lago in Florida, President Trump's so-called Southern White House. Some of those planes were intercepted. NPR's Danny Hajek tells us what that means.

DANNY HAJEK, BYLINE: This is one thing a pilot never wants to hear.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: This is a United States Air Force armed air defense fighter. You have been intercepted.

HAJEK: This was recorded by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association during a training flight with the Colorado Air National Guard. There's an F-16 fighter jet right next to their Cessna.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You are ordered to turn west immediately. If you do not follow these instructions, you may be fired upon.

HAJEK: Stray into restricted airspace - this isn't taken lightly. Since 9/11, more than 1,800 commercial and general aviation aircraft have been intercepted. Nine of those happened near Mar-a-Lago since February, including an unresponsive plane intercepted by a pair of F-15s that had to fly at supersonic speed.

So who are these pilots flying into restricted airspace? Well, Brigadier General Paul Ormsby's responsible for air defense readiness over the U.S. He says most violators fit a common profile.

PAUL ORMSBY: Quite frankly, they're innocent folks, and they have no ill intent. They just simply wandered into the area without realizing that they're in it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You're in the temporary flight restriction area, are you aware of that, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: No, sir, I am not.

HAJEK: This is a real call from air traffic control recorded by liveatc.net. A Cessna pilot had flown into the 30-mile restricted airspace around President Obama during one of his trips.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You see a couple of F-16s shadowing you?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Yes, I saw that. Sorry about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Make straight in, runway two six, cleared to land. I think there's some people who are going to want to talk to you.

MELISSA RUDINGER: Once you land, the law enforcement response is swift.

HAJEK: Melissa Rudinger is with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

RUDINGER: You're face down on the concrete probably surrounded by a couple of weapons until they can get everything sorted out.

HAJEK: She's witnessed it outside her office window at Frederick Airport in Maryland.

RUDINGER: Typically nobody's arrested, and the person's interviewed and they're free to go.

HAJEK: Usually with a suspended license. And these interceptions aren't cheap. The operating cost of a fighter jet can be as much as $34,000 per hour. And the FAA constantly updates flight restrictions, so pilots should always know to check where not to fly. Still, Rudinger says every time the president leaves Washington, there are incursions.

RUDINGER: Especially if the president has a propensity to go somewhere where there's a lot of airports and a lot of air traffic activity like Florida, like the Palm Beach Coast. That's a huge aviation area in this country.

HAJEK: Rudinger says it's clear President Trump likes to be on the go, so she expects even more violations. Danny Hajek, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DJ SHADOW'S "THE MOUNTAIN WILL FALL")

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.