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Local aviation community continues to navigate presidential flight restrictions

Posted at 12:16 PM, Dec 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-01 12:16:50-05

When the president comes to Palm Beach, each visit serves as a post card to the world. Tourism experts say they noticed an uptick in bookings after the president’s spring time visitsto Palm Beach.

But did you get caught in a rolling road block or stuck in traffic because of a presidential motorcade?

President Donald Trump returned to his Winter White House at Mar-a-Lago for Thanksgiving for the first time in several months. He hit the road every day during his visit, impacting commuters along the way.            

While traffic tie ups were tough on the ground, those who work in the aviation community were concerned with the potential impact on private business. Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) prevent private aircraft from continuing normal operations when the president is in town.

Suran Wijayawardana, COO of Alerion Aviation, which operates out of PBIA, feared his business might suffer during the president’s Thanksgiving trip.

WPTV spoke with him before the president's arrival for the Thanksgiving holiday.

"We've had to make accommodations as a business by mitigating operating hours and mitigating the impact on our clients," he said.

But on Monday, we caught up with him after the president's departure from PBIA on Sunday evening and learned that the past week went well for his company. He said the ample notice from the Secret Service helped them to prepare.

"Everything is pretty much back to normal. It wasn't that much of a distraction at all to us," he said. "It went really smoothly. We did not have any impact on our operations."

During presidential visits, hours of operation are restricted to between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. with required pre-screenings.

"After the first two visits, it really started smoothing out," said Wijayawardana.

The 10-mile radius around Palm Beach International Airport affects private aviation companies, especially at Lantana Airport

Boca Raton and Stuart Airports lie within a further radius with less restrictions, causing jet owners and companies to relocate their aircraft to those airports to maintain operations. Tenants at the airport in Boca Raton has reported seeing an increase in fuel sales and traffic.

"For our operation, we use Boca as a secondary airport," said Wijayawardana. "They generally get an uptick in traffic."

Travis Bryan, director of operations for Boca Raton Airport, said they experience a measurable impact during Presidential visits. 

"The total number of aircraft operations is roughly in line with normal weekends, however the aircraft type utilizing the airport skews heavily towards larger corporate jet traffic and away from the small piston engine trainer sized aircraft," he said in a statement. "This is due to the fact of Boca Raton being located within the 30-nautical mile 'TFR Outer Ring', operations such as flight training, sightseeing, banner towing, etc. are prohibited during the Presidential visit. With Palm Beach International being located within the 10-nautical mile "TFR Inner Ring", operations there are heavily restricted and many corporate operators choose to utilize Boca Raton as their alternative."

Wijayawardana says 20 percent to 30 percent of their business is after 5 p.m. Because of that, he's currently working up plans to extend pre-screenings to run until 10 p.m. in an effort to help businesses PBIA.

He plans to have those discussions with Secret Service soon.