Media helicopters often fly over wildfires hoping to gain footage and information that helps them better inform the public.
While the agency recognizes that need and values journalists’ role in getting information out, state officials stress that having both media and firefighting aircraft flying in the same area at the same time could create a potentially dangerous situation.
Texas Forest Service and other wildfire suppression agencies operate under the concept of “Fire Traffic Area.”
Guidelines call for approaching aircraft to radio air attack when they are 12 miles out to establish contact.
Air attack is a twin-engine or light, fixed-wing aircraft that serves as an aerial supervisor overseeing fire operations.
It manages helicopters that may be dropping water, transporting people or conducting reconnaissance missions and heavy, multi-engine, fixed-wing airtankers dropping retardant.
Air attack normally flies at a higher altitude so that it can direct air operations and maintain aircraft separation. It typically will have an aircraft orbit the fire until it can be worked into the mix and perform its mission.
If aircraft haven’t made contact by the time they’re seven miles out, they must conduct a left-hand orbit seven miles out until the contact is made.
Once communication is established, air attack will direct their approach, pattern and altitude—if conditions permit. No aircraft—including suppression aircraft—approach the fire area until radio contact is made.
Media aircraft must utilize the same concept in order to approach the fire safely. If a non-authorized aircraft enters the Fire Traffic Area, firefighting aircraft must abandon their missions and leave the area until it’s been cleared for their return.
Communication should be made via the air attack frequency, which can be obtained by calling Air Operations at 325-928-3483. When a Temporary Flight Restriction is in place, pilots may go to the FAA website, view the NOTAM (Notices to Airmen) and obtain the frequency.