How many aviators violated flight restrictions during President Donald Trump’s nearly weeklong Thanksgiving weekend stay at the Mar-a-Lago compound in Palm Beach?
The Federal Aviation Administration, which made such statistics public almost in real time during the president’s visits in early 2017, won’t do so now. And not for weeks or even months.
The agency told The Palm Beach Post this week that it will release the number, and numbers for the potentially several winter visits by the president, only through a federal Freedom of Information Act request. The government gets scores of these requests each day and is under no deadline to answer them, no matter how simple they might be.
The FAA did not comment on why it changed its policy.
The Colorado-based North American Aerospace Defense Command did say this week it conducted no “intercepts” this past weekend. Some residents reported hearing what they thought was a sonic boom over West Palm Beach on Thursday, and reported seeing a fighter jet fly low over Wellington on Sunday, the day the president returned to Washington. But NORAD spokeswoman Capt. Lauren Hill said Monday from Colorado Springs that no jets were scrambled.
The FAA isn’t the only agency delaying releasing data to the public. A Palm Beach Post request in February to the Coast Guard about how many boaters it encountered in the zones around Mar-a-Lago during the president’s visits took more than a half year to answer.
The FAA did say in April that, between February and April, when Trump spent seven of his first weekends as president at Mar-a-Lago, that 45 separate aircraft violated the air space, imposed by the Secret Service, and were directed away.
When pilots didn’t respond, some had to be run off by military planes that were up front and personal.
During Trump’s visit from April 6-9, when he and Chinese President Xi Jinping met, nine violations were reported. And during Trump’s March 18-19 stay, seven pilots crossed into restricted airspace. One, a small Cessna plane that wasn’t in radio contact, was intercepted by two F-15E aircraft and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, NORAD reported at the time.
Mar-a-Lago also is surrounded by marine security zones. The U.S. Coast Guard this week has not said how many boaters violated them during the recent stay.
During the stays earlier this year, more than 1,200 boaters had encounters with Coast Guard boats who, by either shouting or by radio, or by flashing a blue light, directed the mariners to keep moving. No boats were boarded during that time, the agency said.
The flight restrictions are having a financial impact.
Palm Beach County aviation managers have said they expect to lose $60,000 in airport revenue because they are waiving rental fees in 2018 to help Lantana airport companies who will be effectively shut down when Trump is in town. Stellar Aviation Group, which provides fuel and manages hangars at the airport, said it’s already lost close to a half million dollars from businesses and tenants that bolted since this past year’s visits. The company said more could leave or even go out of business this year.
And the county said it expects to lose as much as $70,000 in general aviation — private plane — fees from Palm Beach International Airport if it repeats this past year’s 12 percent drop in general aviation landings and fuel sales during presidential visits.