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Special Use Airspace (Part One)

by Flight Learnings

in Airspace

Special use airspace or special area of operation (SAO) is the designation for airspace in which certain activities must be confined, or where limitations may be imposed on aircraft operations that are not part of those activities. Certain special use airspace areas can create limitations on the mixed use of airspace. The special use airspace depicted on instrument charts includes the area name or number, effective altitude, time and weather conditions of operation, the controlling agency, and the chart panel location. On National Aeronautical Charting Group (NACG) en route charts, this information is available on one of the end panels. Special use airspace usually consists of:

  • Prohibited areas
  • Restricted areas
  • Warning areas
  • Military operation areas (MOAs)
  • Alert areas
  • Controlled firing areas (CFAs)

Prohibited Areas

Prohibited areas contain airspace of defined dimensions within which the flight of aircraft is prohibited. Such areas are established for security or other reasons associated with the national welfare. These areas are published in the Federal Register and are depicted on aeronautical charts. The area is charted as a “P” followed by a number (e.g., P-49). Examples of prohibited areas include Camp David and the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where the White House and the Congressional buildings are located. [Figure 14-2]

Figure 14-2. An example of a prohibited area is Crawford, Texas.

Figure 14-2. An example of a prohibited area is Crawford, Texas.

Restricted Areas

Restricted areas are areas where operations are hazardous to nonparticipating aircraft and contain airspace within which the flight of aircraft, while not wholly prohibited, is subject to restrictions. Activities within these areas must be confined because of their nature, or limitations may be imposed upon aircraft operations that are not a part of those activities, or both. Restricted areas denote the existence of unusual, often invisible, hazards to aircraft (e.g., artillery firing, aerial gunnery, or guided missiles). IFR flights may be authorized to transit the airspace and are routed accordingly. Penetration of restricted areas without authorization from the using or controlling agency may be extremely hazardous to the aircraft and its occupants. ATC facilities apply the following procedures when aircraft are operating on an IFR clearance (including those cleared by ATC to maintain VFR on top) via a route which lies within joint-use restricted airspace:

  1. If the restricted area is not active and has been released to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the ATC facility allows the aircraft to operate in the restricted airspace without issuing specific clearance for it to do so.
  2. If the restricted area is active and has not been released to the FAA, the ATC facility issues a clearance which ensures the aircraft avoids the restricted airspace.
Restricted areas are charted with an “R” followed by a number (e.g., R-4401) and are depicted on the en route chart appropriate for use at the altitude or FL being flown. [Figure 14-3] Restricted area information can be obtained on the back of the chart.
Figure 14-3. Restricted areas on a sectional chart.

Figure 14-3. Restricted areas on a sectional chart.

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