No fewer than 27 aviators violated flight restriction zones during the first three weekends President Donald Trump was at his Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago estate, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
After skipping a week, Trump is apparently returning to Palm Beach County for a fourth weekend, with flight restrictions again posted for Friday through Sunday. Before he lands, he’ll make a short stop Friday at Saint Andrew Catholic School in the Pine Hills neighborhood in Orlando for a "listening session on school choice," according to news reports.
The FAA’s breakdown of violations for the first three stays: 10 violations on Feb. 3-5, three on Feb. 10-12, and 14 on Feb. 17-20, the long Presidents Day weekend.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command says at least seven aviators who broke the rules over the Presidents Day weekend, plus two or three more the first weekends, encountered military aircraft during their flights. At least four were intercepted by Air Force F-15s, and one, from the Wellington Aero Club was met by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter.
Trump also stayed at Mar-a-Lago over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays when he was president-elect. Violation figures for those visits were not available.
Any time the president is in town, the U.S. Secret Service implements a series of flight restrictions. They ban most operations at the Lantana Airport and impose strict limits at other Palm Beach County airports, which includes clearance requirements for small plane pilots flying in from other airports.
The restrictions have effectively shut down the Lantana airport's estimated 200 daily operations, and businesses have pleaded with the Secret Service to tweak the rules so they can, at least, partially operate when Trump is in town. The Secret Service said early on it would revisit the restrictions after it reviewing the operations for a few weekends went, but it hasn’t acted — or commented — since.
Trump’s visits to Palm Beach County also cost the county about $60,000 a day in overtime costs for sheriff’s deputies, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has estimated.
When a Washington Examiner reporter asked White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Tuesday about whether Trump is taking any steps to ensure that taxpayers aren’t saddled with the costs of his travel habits, Spicer said, “The security for the President and the first family is set by the Secret Service. As you know, they determine the security measures that need to be taken to protect the President — frankly, any President. So I’m going to leave it up to the Secret Service to decide what security measures and steps are taken to protect the President.
Meanwhile, aviation and local leaders are lobbying the president and federal agencies to provide some relief to Palm Beach County, even as the county is conducting a review to get a better handle on the benefits, as well as the costs, of Trump’s frequent travel here.
In a letter sent to Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly on Friday, the head of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association suggested that the Transportation Security Administration should set up an office at Lantana Airport where a TSA agent could screen crew, passengers and luggage.
The association, which represents 350,000 private pilots and airplane owners nationwide, has said that if Trump continues his pace, economic losses to Palm Beach County aviation could “eclipse” those at other places hit with flight restrictions over visits from past presidents.
Aviation firms at Lantana have also asked the Secret Service to allow a corridor to the west and south that would allow flight schools and other outfits limited operations during the restrictions.
Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s chief of staff met with state Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lake Worth, who had asked the Republican governor to lobby Trump to urge the Secret Service to modify the restrictions.
At the request of U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, Palm Beach County Commissioner Dave Kerner also wrote the Secret Service asking for tweaks. Frankel, Berman and Kerner gathered on Feb. 13 at Lantana Airport to hear business concerns about the estimated losses of a combined $15,000 a day every weekend when the president visits Mar-a-Lago.
Authorities also have set up no-boat zones around Mar-a-Lago. The Post asked the U.S. Coast Guard for the number of marine interdictions for violations of its zones, but, unlike the FAA, it said that information must go through a Freedom of Information Act request, a process that will take weeks or months.
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