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

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Did you know there are approximately 500 restricted areas in the skies over the USA? Here's what you need to know before your next flight...

Understanding Restricted Areas

Restricted Areas are places where flight is highly restricted. They're less restrictive than prohibited areas and may have certain "active" times. 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. Today, there are around 500 restricted areas in the USA.

Restricted Areas have a blue hatched border and they're labeled starting with the letter "R". In this example, "R-4808N" is the highlighted Restricted Area.

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Find The Details On Your Sectional Chart

If you look on 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

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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:

Boldmethod / ForeFlight

Can You Fly Into Restricted Areas?

You can't fly into a Restricted Area without permission from the controlling or using agency, and that needs to be coordinated ahead of time.

If you have a reason to fly through restricted airspace, it probably won't work out very well to just call and ask ATC on the radio. Ideally, the controlling agency will be aware of your intentions and any necessary approval ahead of time, usually over the phone.

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 at the end of the day, the decision is up to the controlling agency.

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Flying IFR? ATC Has You Covered

If you're flying IFR, things get a little easier. While communicating with ATC, they will route you around restricted airspace. If you're allowed into the airspace, you might not even realize you're flying into a restricted area. 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 a verbal clearance to do so under IFR. If you're not allowed into the restricted area, ATC will change your course to ensure you don't bust the airspace.

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Do you have a restricted area near you? Tell us about it 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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