Restricted Airspace

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA)

The Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area Special Flight Rules Area (DC SFRA) is roughly a circular area with a 30 nautical mile (about 33 statute miles) radius around Washington, D.C., and surrounds the Flight-Restricted Zone (FRZ). 

The Leesburg Executive Airport is located on the boundary of the SFRA. The Leesburg Maneuvering Area was developed to ease access into and out of Leesburg airport. The current Code of Federal Regulations detail proper procedures to access the area. Flight exercise operations at non-controlled tower airports within the SFRA (but not within the DC FRZ) must be conducted in accordance with 14 CFR section 93.339 (C).

There are a number of requirements for aircraft flying within the SFRA:

  • Pilots must obtain an advanced clearance from FAA air traffic control to fly within, into, or out of the SFRA.
  • Aircraft flying within the SFRA must have an altitude-encoding transponder and it must be operating.
  • FAA air traffic control must assign a four-digit number that identifies the aircraft by call sign or registration number when it gives a pilot clearance to fly in the SFRA.
  • While flying within the SFRA, the pilot must be in direct contact with air traffic control unless cleared to the local airport traffic advisory frequency.

Flight-Restricted Zone (FRZ)

The Flight-Restricted Zone (FRZ) extends approximately 15 nautical miles (about 17 statute miles) around Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The airport is located in Arlington County, VA, four miles from downtown Washington, D.C.  The FRZ has been in effect since September 11, 2001.

The only non-governmental flights allowed within the FRZ without a waiver are scheduled commercial flights into and out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Airlines operating charter flights that support the U.S. government may land at Joint Base Andrews Air Force Base or Ronald Reagan Washington National Airports without a waiver and under certain conditions per FDC NOTAM 8/3032.

Certain general aviation flights may be authorized to fly within the FRZ. Information about waiver applications and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) authorizations can be found at: or by contacting TSA at (571) 227-2071.  Individuals may submit a request for an FAA waiver at

Pilots who have been vetted by the TSA are allowed to fly in and out of the three Maryland general aviation airports. Other commercial air carrier flights can be vectored into the FRZ by air traffic controllers. Some approved news and traffic-reporting aircraft are allowed to operate under certain conditions within the FRZ. Contact TSA Maryland Three Program for any questions.

Prohibited Area 56 (P-56)

P-56A & B are prohibited areas surrounding the White House, the National Mall, and the vice president's residence in Washington, D.C.

The only aircraft that are allowed to fly within these prohibited areas are specially authorized flights that are in direct support of the U.S. Secret Service, the Office of the President, or one of several government agencies with missions that require air support within P-56. These prohibited areas have been in effect for about 50 years.

P-56A covers approximately the area west of the Lincoln Memorial (Rock Creek Park) to east of the Capitol (Stanton Square) and between Independence Avenue and K Street up to 18,000 feet.

P-56B covers a small circle with a radius of about one nautical mile (about 1.2 statute miles) surrounding the Naval Observatory on Massachusetts Avenue up to 18,000 feet.

Temporary Flight Restrictions

The FAA institutes temporary flight restrictions for security reasons and many aviation activities like air shows and hazards to aviation such as forest fires, smoke, and volcano plumes. Most temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) are noted on the FAA home page under "Graphic TFRs."

At the request of the U.S. Secret Service, the FAA can restrict airspace around locations where officials are visiting.

Airspace Security Violations

FAA regulations require pilots to check in advance for any flight restrictions that may be in effect on or near their planned routes before they fly. The best way for pilots to do this is to call their Flight Service Stations before take off for briefings on the weather, flight restrictions, and anything else that may affect the area in which they plan to fly. The FAA  issues Notices to Air Missions (NOTAMs) to advise pilots of flight restrictions and other special circumstances (such as closed runways, restrictions due to volcanic plumes, etc). Both the NOTAMs and most of the graphic representations of all flight-restricted areas can be found on the FAA home page under "NOTAMs" and "Graphic TFRs." The agency has also performed extensive outreach, in coordination with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and other aviation groups, when it implements unusually extensive temporary restrictions (such as the Presidential Inauguration, the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, and the G8 Summit).

The FAA has the authority to suspend or revoke a pilot’s certificate or issue civil-penalty (monetary) actions against pilots who violate the Federal Aviation Regulations or federal aviation laws. Other agencies may pursue criminal actions if those are warranted.

Visual Warning System for the SFRA

In some situations, NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) uses a warning signal to communicate with pilots who fly into the SFRA or FRZ without authorization. The signal uses highly focused red and green lights in an alternating red/ red/green signal pattern. This signal is directed at specific aircraft suspected of making unauthorized entry into the SFRA/FRZ that are on a heading or flight path that may be interpreted as a threat, or that operate contrary to the operating rules for the SFRA/FRZ.

The beam will not injure the eyes of pilots, aircrews or passengers, regardless of altitude or distance from the source.

If pilots are in communication with air traffic control and this signal is directed at their aircraft, they are advised to immediately tell air traffic control that they are being illuminated by a visual-warning signal. If this signal is directed at a pilot who is not communicating with air traffic control, that pilot should turn to a heading away from the center of the FRZ/SFRA as soon as possible and immediately contact air traffic control on an appropriate frequency. If a pilot is unsure of the frequency, he or she should contact air traffic control on VHF guard frequency 121.5 or UHF guard 243.0.

Failure to follow these procedures may result in interception by military aircraft and/or the use of force. This applies to all aircraft operating within the SFRA, including Department of Defense, law enforcement, and aeromedical operations.