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Pilot Flies Through Prohibited Airspace

Unlike restricted areas, prohibited areas are much harder to get permission to fly through. Here's what happened when one pilot flew through a prohibited area over the Bush Family Ranch in Texas...

Prohibited Areas: Can You Get Permission?

Prohibited Areas are places where flight is, well, prohibited. These areas are created for national security reasons, as well as to protect the environment. Here's the technical definition from the FAA:

Prohibited areas contain airspace of defined dimensions identified by an area on the surface of the earth 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.

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While it's difficult, in some cases you can get permission to fly through prohibited areas. If you contact the controlling or using agency prior to your flight, you can request permission to fly through the prohibited area. If your reason to fly through is compelling enough, you might get permission.

Where Are They?

Here's a list of some permanently prohibited areas you'll find in airspace around the country:

  • Thurmont, Maryland, site of Presidential retreat Camp David (Prohibited Area 40 or P-40)
  • Amarillo, Texas, Pantex nuclear assembly plant (P-47)
  • Bush Ranch near Crawford, Texas (P-49)
  • Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia (P-50)
  • Naval Base Kitsap, Washington (P-51)
  • Washington, D.C., U.S. Capitol, White House, and Naval Observatory (P-56); see other restrictions for information about all Active Prohibited Areas in the Washington D.C./Baltimore Flight Restricted Zone.
  • Bush compound near Kennebunkport, Maine (P-67)
  • Mount Vernon, Virginia, home of George Washington (P-73)
  • Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota (P-204, 205, and 206)

If you look on the side of your VFR sectional, you'll find the details of the Prohibited Area, including: prohibited area number, altitude (MSL), time of use (in local), controlling agency, and communication frequency. Our advice? Give prohibited areas wide room! Leave over 10 miles between you and the border and always pay attention to where you are flying.

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Pilot Violates P-49 Over The Bush Family Ranch

The following NASA ASRS report was filed a few years ago when a pilot flying around Texas in his Cessna 340 violated an expanded prohibited area near the Bush Family Ranch. Here's what happened:

A few days before the incident, I flew VFR with flight following to PWG without incident. The controllers made no mention of the P-49 area being expanded into a larger TFR. I was unaware of a government official being there and the TFR being expanded from the ground to FL180 and 30NM in diameter. I picked up my wife, looked at the radar and winds aloft screens on an aviation website, saw no area of concern, and drove to the airport. Once airport at approximately 600 feet AGL I called Waco Approach for flight following and was told to "proceed direction to ACT (Waco) and land for national security."

I was given a phone number to call. On the ground, I spoke with the head controller at Wace Approach, explained the situation, and was told to wait for a secret service agent. We waited for around 90 minutes for the secret service agent to arrive. When he arrived, he interviewed my wife, myself, and inspected my airplane. After the agent concluded his investigation, we were told that we could go.

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Have you experienced any problems are prohibited airspace? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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