Section 4. Special Use Airspace
Special use airspace (SUA) consists of that airspace wherein activities must be confined because of their nature, or wherein limitations are imposed upon aircraft operations that are not a part of those activities, or both. SUA areas are depicted on aeronautical charts, except for controlled firing areas (CFA), temporary military operations areas (MOA), and temporary restricted areas.
Prohibited and restricted areas are regulatory special use airspace and are established in 14 CFR Part 73 through the rulemaking process.
Warning areas, MOAs, alert areas, CFAs, and national security areas (NSA) are nonregulatory special use airspace.
Special use airspace descriptions (except CFAs) are contained in FAA Order JO 7400.8, Special Use Airspace.
Permanent SUA (except CFAs) is charted on Sectional Aeronautical, VFR Terminal Area, and applicable En Route charts, and include the hours of operation, altitudes, and the controlling agency.
For temporary restricted areas and temporary MOAs, pilots should review the Notices to Airman Publication (NTAP), the FAA SUA website, and/or contact the appropriate overlying ATC facility to determine the effect of non-depicted SUA areas along their routes of flight.
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.
Restricted areas contain airspace identified by an area on the surface of the earth 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 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 such as artillery firing, aerial gunnery, or guided missiles. Penetration of restricted areas without authorization from the using or controlling agency may be extremely hazardous to the aircraft and its occupants. Restricted areas are published in the Federal Register and constitute 14 CFR Part 73.
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.
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.
The above apply only to joint‐use restricted airspace and not to prohibited and nonjoint‐use airspace. For the latter categories, the ATC facility will issue a clearance so the aircraft will avoid 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.
Permanent restricted areas are charted on Sectional Aeronautical, VFR Terminal Area, and the appropriate En Route charts.
Temporary restricted areas are not charted.
A warning area is airspace of defined dimensions, extending from three nautical miles outward from the coast of the U.S., that contains activity that may be hazardous to nonparticipating aircraft. The purpose of such warning areas is to warn nonparticipating pilots of the potential danger. A warning area may be located over domestic or international waters or both.
Military Operations Areas
MOAs consist of airspace of defined vertical and lateral limits established for the purpose of separating certain military training activities from IFR traffic. Whenever a MOA is being used, nonparticipating IFR traffic may be cleared through a MOA if IFR separation can be provided by ATC. Otherwise, ATC will reroute or restrict nonparticipating IFR traffic.
Examples of activities conducted in MOAs include, but are not limited to: air combat tactics, air intercepts, aerobatics, formation training, and low-altitude tactics. Military pilots flying in an active MOA are exempted from the provisions of 14 CFR Section 91.303(c) and (d) which prohibits aerobatic flight within Class D and Class E surface areas, and within Federal airways. Additionally, the Department of Defense has been issued an authorization to operate aircraft at indicated airspeeds in excess of 250 knots below 10,000 feet MSL within active MOAs.
Pilots operating under VFR should exercise extreme caution while flying within a MOA when military activity is being conducted. The activity status (active/inactive) of MOAs may change frequently. Therefore, pilots should contact any FSS within 100 miles of the area to obtain accurate real‐time information concerning the MOA hours of operation. Prior to entering an active MOA, pilots should contact the controlling agency for traffic advisories.
Permanent MOAs are charted on Sectional Aeronautical, VFR Terminal Area, and the appropriate En Route Low Altitude charts.
Temporary MOAs are not charted.
Alert areas are depicted on aeronautical charts to inform nonparticipating pilots of areas that may contain a high volume of pilot training or an unusual type of aerial activity. Pilots should be particularly alert when flying in these areas. All activity within an alert area must be conducted in accordance with CFRs, without waiver, and pilots of participating aircraft as well as pilots transiting the area must be equally responsible for collision avoidance.
Controlled Firing Areas
CFAs contain activities which, if not conducted in a controlled environment, could be hazardous to nonparticipating aircraft. The distinguishing feature of the CFA, as compared to other special use airspace, is that its activities are suspended immediately when spotter aircraft, radar, or ground lookout positions indicate an aircraft might be approaching the area. There is no need to chart CFAs since they do not cause a nonparticipating aircraft to change its flight path.
National Security Areas
NSAs consist of airspace of defined vertical and lateral dimensions established at locations where there is a requirement for increased security and safety of ground facilities. Pilots are requested to voluntarily avoid flying through the depicted NSA. When it is necessary to provide a greater level of security and safety, flight in NSAs may be temporarily prohibited by regulation under the provisions of 14 CFR Section 99.7. Regulatory prohibitions will be issued by System Operations Security and disseminated via NOTAM. Inquiries about NSAs should be directed to System Operations Security.
AIM, Para 5-6-1, National Security
Obtaining Special Use Airspace Status
Pilots can request the status of SUA by contacting the using or controlling agency. The frequency for the controlling agency is tabulated in the margins of the applicable IFR and VFR charts.
Special Use Airspace Information Service (SUAIS) (Alaska Only). The SUAIS is a 24-hour service operated by the military that provides civilian pilots, flying VFR, with information regarding military flight operations in certain MOAs and restricted airspace within central Alaska. The service provides “near real time” information on military flight activity in the interior Alaska MOA and Restricted Area complex. SUAIS also provides information on artillery firing, known helicopter operations, and unmanned aerial vehicle operations. Pilots flying VFR are encouraged to use SUAIS. See the Alaska Chart Supplement for hours of operation, phone numbers, and radio frequencies.
Special use airspace scheduling data for preflight planning is available via the FAA SUA website.