April 4, 2013
The FAA announced a temporary no-fly zone would be enacted indefinitely over the Arkansas oil spill. With word that an Exxon employee was controlling the airspace, though, speculation pointed to the idea the oil company was trying to keep the media away.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced Monday that until further notice, no aircraft will be allowed to operate over the Mayflower oil spill in Conway, Arkansas. While there was scant explanation for the mandate, it was “effective immediately” – and ordered to stay in place “until further notice.”
The FAA’s online posting raised some questions Wednesday, though, by noting that “only relief aircraft operations under direction of Tom Suhrhoff” are permitted in the area. On his LinkedIn profile, Suhrhoff lists himself not as an emergency expert or safety official, but as an aviation adviser for ExxonMobil. Prior to ExxonMobil, according to his profile on the professional social network, he worked as a US Army pilot for 24 years.
The only reasoning provided on FAA.gov for “temporary flight restrictions” was a “hazard” warning.
On April 1, the day flight activity was suspended, an aerial video surfaced online revealing the extent of the damage.
An FAA spokesman told reporters that the flying ban applied to aircraft flying at 1,000 feet or lower and within five nautical miles, so that emergency support are able to respond to the disaster immediately.
However, there’s been rampant speculation that the ban was enacted to censor news cameras from taking shots of the disaster area.
Lynn Lunsford, a spokesperson for the FAA, revealed that the restriction was requested by local disaster officials and that the order would eventually be amended to include news helicopters.
“They are using at least one helicopter to provide aerial support for the cleanup,” Lunsford said. “For safety reasons, they asked us to protect the airspace 1,000 feet above the area to allow the aircraft to move as needed.”
ExxonMobil has issued a statement, saying it is actively engaging the claims relating to the spill made by local residents. However, resident Chris Harrell wrote on his Twitter account after meeting with ExxonMobil that claims would only be dealt with individually and following the completion of the cleanup.
Just spoke with @exxonmobil  claims dept. “Compensation for property values and inconvenience will be addressed after clean up is complete.”
— chris harrell (@shiftymcfive01) April 3, 2013 
He added that ExxonMobil had given no assurances as to when the cleanup would be finished.