July 1–The FAA announced today a number of changes to the restrictions governing the Special Flight Rules Area surrounding the nation’s capitol, effective September 1.
The most significant change will affect pilots who lose radio contact with controllers while flying under visual flight rules after departing from an airport located within the Special Flight Rules Area (a circle of airspace extending 30 miles out from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport). Under the current rules, those pilots must squawk 7600 on their transponders and immediately leave the Special Flight Rules Area by the most direct route. The new rule will allow pilots to return to their departure airport if it is closer than the Special Flight Rules Area boundary. This means pilots might not have to fly longer distances to airports outside the Special Flight Rules Area. Pilots who lose radio contact after departing from an airport located within the Flight Restricted Zone (an inner ring extending 15 miles out from National Airport) may return to that airport if it is within five nautical miles. If neither condition applies, pilots must leave the Special Flight Rules Area by the most direct route.
To improve safety, the FAA added a speed limit of 180 knots within the Special Flight Rules Area for aircraft flying under visual flight rules. This will complement the existing 230 knot speed limit for aircraft flying under visual flight rules in airspace extending 30 miles beyond the outer ring of the Special Flight Rules Area.
The agency made several clarifications to make it easier for pilots to file flight plans and understand radio requirements. The FAA added a phone number (866-225-7410) for pilots to call to file flight plans for the Flight Restricted Zone. Pilots will be asked to use their confidential pilot identification codes or their waiver numbers.
The FAA also clarified that aircraft flying within the Special Flight Rules Area must be equipped with a functioning two-way radio capable of communicating with controllers on the appropriate frequencies or UNICOM. The agency strongly recommends that pilots continuously monitor VHF frequency 121.5 or UHF frequency 243.0 for emergency instructions while flying in the Special Flight Rules Area.