Politics of stadium's no-fly zone

Daily News Editor
Published May 6, 2007

At spring commencement this year, all eyes - including those of former President Bill Clinton - turned to the American flag when "The Star Spangled Banner" rang out across the Big House.

But those who attended the ceremony were not prepared for the other banners that appeared - the ones attached to a small plane circulating the stadium that read, "Choose life, not Hillary & abortion," and "Congratulations graduates. Defend the unborn."

Media information sheets distributed before the event alerted helicopters to the official no-fly zone around Michigan Stadium.

The no-fly zone puts restrictions on planes that fly over the stadium and is usually in place during sporting events.

Based on information from Diane Brown, spokeswoman for the University's Facilities and Operations, no aircraft would be permitted within 3,000 feet of the stadium between 10 a.m. and one hour after the end of commencement.

But the day before the ceremony, the Federal Aviation Administration informed the University that flight restrictions would not be in affect during the event.

FAA Aviation Safety Inspector Wayne Phillips said he has "never seen a temporary flight restriction imposed on the aviation community for a former president."

FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory said that a request was never made for a temporary flight restriction during the graduation ceremony.

But Brown said the University did make a specific request. She said the FAA told members of her office that the flight restrictions in place for sporting events would apply to graduation, but that the FAA changed its decision at the last minute.

"The whole thing was a surprise to us," she said.

Larry Grisham, an Ann Arbor Control Tower operator, said that temporary flight restrictions are granted in the "upper echelons of Washington."

"It's political," he said. "But it's usually done with safety in mind."

The FAA is unable to regulate the content of a banner being towed behind a plane.

"That first amendment thing gets under our skin sometimes," Phillips said.