My op-ed for The Hill’s Congress Blog:
Shortly after a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Mike Brown, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a no-fly zone over Ferguson, Missouri banning all flights within 3,000 feet off the ground. The stated purpose of the flight restrictions is to “provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities.”
Temporary flight restrictions issued under issued through Section 91.137 of the Code of Federal Regulations – on which the FAA solely relied in imposing temporary flight restrictions on Ferguson – are for “disaster/hazard situations” that warrant regulatory measures to restrict flight operations for a specified amount of airspace, on a temporary basis.The rationale behind temporary flight restrictions issues under 14 CFR Section 91.137(a)(1) is to protect individuals in the air or ground from “hazard associated with an incident on the surface when the presence of low flying aircraft would magnify, alter, spread, or compound that hazard.” Examples of this type of hazard that are provided in the Code of Federal Regulations include toxic gas leaks, volcanic eruptions, nuclear accidents, tidal waves, and other similar calamities.
While the chaos and violence of demonstrators in the streets of Ferguson is not exactly nuclear accident waiting to happen, it is not entirely farfetched that the situation in Ferguson might fall under one of the other two lesser rationales for temporary flight restrictions of less severity. For example, 14 CFR 91.137(a)(2) temporary flight restrictions may be imposed “to provide a safe environment for the operation of disaster relief aircraft.” This provision is eerily similar to the stated rationale for both the temporary flight restrictions placed on Ferguson on Monday night and in August – “to provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities”. This raises the question of how the stated rationale of providing a safe environment for law enforcement activities is more similar to tidal waves and nuclear disasters than to providing a “safe environment for operation of disaster relief aircrafts”.
The FAA imposed similar temporary flight restrictions last year over the Clark County, Nevada ranch of 67-year-old Cliven Bundy when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) attempted to confiscate cattle grazing on the land, which the BLM claimed as federal property. Just as in the NOTAM for the flight restrictions placed on Ferguson, no hazard or disaster was specified.
Are the FAA’s temporary flight restrictions truly protecting those in Ferguson from potential disaster or is the true disaster the inevitable succession from forgoing aerial news coverage to relinquishing control of the media narrative in Ferguson?