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Restricted Areas: What You Should Know, And How To Operate Around Them

Restricted airspace is an area typically used by the military where air traffic is restricted or prohibited for safety reasons.

Restricted areas often contain unusual and hazardous operations, like missile launches, air combat training, and artillery firing. You'll also find restricted areas over large military installations or other areas deemed necessary by the FAA/government.

Restricted areas are depicted on VFR sectional charts with a blue hatched border, and they're labeled starting with the letter "R" followed by a serial number.

In the example below, "R-4808N" is the highlighted restricted area.


How To Find The Details On Your Sectional Chart

If you look at the side of your sectional chart, you'll find the following information:

  • Restricted Area Number: R-4808 N
  • Altitude (in MSL): Unlimited
  • Time of use (in local): Continuous
  • Controlling agency: Nellis Range Control
  • Communication frequency: 126.65


You can also find these details using ForeFlight. Just hold your finger down over the airspace in question. Here's what the details look like on ForeFlight:


Can You Fly Into Restricted Areas Under VFR?

You can't fly into a restricted area without permission from the controlling or using agency.

If you have a reason to fly through restricted airspace, you can contact the controlling agency for approval ahead of time. This is best coordinated over the phone ahead of the flight, but there is a communications frequency listed for most restricted areas that you can contact as well.

If the restricted area is "cold", or not being used, and you have a legitimate reason to fly through the airspace, you might get approval. But ultimately, the decision is up to the controlling agency.


Flying IFR? ATC Has You Covered

If you're flying IFR, things get a little easier. If a restricted area is in use, or if you're not allowed through it, ATC will route you around the airspace. But if the airspace is cold, ATC may be able to route you through it.

Here's what the FAA has to say in section 3-4-3(b) of the AIM...

If the restricted area is not active and has been released to the controlling agency (FAA), the ATC facility will allow the aircraft to operate in the restricted airspace without issuing specific clearance for it to do so.

If the restricted area is active and has not been released to the controlling agency (FAA), the ATC facility will issue a clearance which will ensure the aircraft avoids the restricted airspace unless it is on an approved altitude reservation mission or has obtained its own permission to operate in the airspace and so informs the controlling facility.

In short, if you're allowed into the airspace, you won't need verbal clearance to fly through it under IFR. If you're not allowed into the restricted area, ATC will simply route you around the airspace.


Want to learn more about airspace? Sign up for our National Airspace System online course and become an airspace pro today.

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