Authorities: Fighter jets intercepted three aviators during Trump stay


The military scrambled fighter jets three times this past holiday weekend to intercept small private planes that had violated air space near Mar-a-Lago while President Donald Trump was there and who didn’t respond to radio calls, authorities confirmed Tuesday.

The three were among eight pilots who entered the no-fly rings during the president’s 3-day visit to his Palm Beach “Winter White House,” the Federal Aviation Authority said Tuesday. It did not break down violations by location or type of aircraft.

There’s already a travel notice indicating the president plans to return this coming weekend.

When the president visits Mar-a-Lago, all air operations, with a few exceptions, are prohibited within the 10-mile inner circle ring centered on Palm Beach International Airport. Certain operations are allowed in the outer ring extending 30 miles from the airport.

The FAA has said 11 violations occurred during the president’s 11-day Christmas stay, the second most since Trump began staying at Mar-a-Lago as president. Agencies reported 25 violations during three February stays— 14 over President’s Day weekend alone —as well as 10 during two March stays, 14 in two April stays, and five during the president’s Thanksgiving visit.

According to both the Colorado-based North American Aerospace Defense Command and Tyndall Air Force base near Panama City, in each case this past weekend, the pilot had entered into the restricted air space and was not talking to air traffic controllers.

Each pilot “was safely escorted out,” Tyndall spokesman Maj. Andrew J. Scott said. Tyndall coordinates for NORAD for the continental United States.

He said the intercepts were Saturday at about 10 a.m. and again about 3:15 p.m., each targeting a Cessna 150, and about 11 a.m. Sunday in connection to a Piper PA 31 Navajo.

The fighter jets were F-16s attached to Shaw Air Force Base and McEntire Joint Air National Guard base, both near Columbia, S.C., Scott said. Citing security concerns, he said they already were in South Florida but would not say if they were on the ground or on patrol in the air when they were called to do the intercepts. He also would not identify the errant pilots.

Kelly said he could not give exact locations for the encounters but he could say where the planes left the no-fly zone. He said the morning plane exited west-southwest of Mar-a-Lago and the other six miles south of Lake Okeechobee, and the Sunday plane near Indiantown.

Scott did not have cost figures for the weekend encounters. The U.S. Air Force said last year that taxpayers pay about $35,000 for an Air Force F-15, a similar plane but a bit heavier and more expensive, to be in the air for an hour. That figure includes fuel as well as maintenance before and after the planes fly.



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