Presidential Airspace

Did you know that a moving Prohibited Area always follows the President of the United States where ever he goes? The Federal Aviation Regulations make it illegal to fly over or near the President.


I took this photo of the new Air Force One from the control tower in Kinston, North Carolina a few years ago. The President was not on board because the crew was doing ‘touch and goes.‘ That’s right — Air Force One does touch and goes. The crew would fly down from Andrews Air Force Base near Washington D.C. to do their recurrent training on what was then 7,500 feet of runway. Why was I in the control tower that day? Because I had just sent out a student pilot on his very first solo. I would have waited if I had known Air Force One was arriving, but it turned out to be a great story. My student flew solo for the first time in a Cessna 150 in the same traffic pattern as Air Force One — a 747. (Both airplanes made three touch-and-goes.) I was really happy we had talked at length about wake turbulence!

My student, or anyone else for that matter, would not have been able to make that solo flight had the President been on the airplane. The regulation (91.141) says in part that ‘no person may operate an aircraft over or in the vicinity of any area to be visited or traveled by the President, or Vice President…‘ That covers the President while traveling, but there are some permanent Prohibited Areas where the President and Vice President would routinely be located.

Figure 2 is Area P-56A, which covers the White House, the Capitol, and the National Mall. (It’s ironic, but the National Air and Space Museum sits in a ‘no-fly‘ zone.) Note that the current Washington, D.C. TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction) has expanded the no-fly zone exponentially.

Figure 2 – Washington, D.C. Figure 3 – Camp David

Restricted Airspace is off limits to civilian pilots, but not all the time. Civilian pilots, can at times, cross a Restricted Area when it is not ‘hot.‘ But, before you enter Restricted Airspace call on the radio to the ‘controlling agency‘ and double check that you can indeed enter. Prohibited Airspace on the other hand is completely off limits — all day, every day … always.

Figure 3 is Camp David. The chart indicates a Prohibited Area on the surface with a Restricted Area stacked on top. The Restricted Area is in effect when the President is in residence, and otherwise when specified, making it also a no-fly zone. Again, a TFR has expanded the Camp David no-fly zone (scroll down for the second image).

Presidential homes are also off limits, even when their residents are not there. Figure 4 is P-49 outside of Crawford, Texas, (P-49 and the surrounding area is also the subject of a TFR — scroll down for the third image) and Figure 5 is P-67 over Kennebunkport, Maine. Presidential Airspace is not limited to the sitting President.

Figure 4 – Crawford, Texas Figure 5 – Kennebunkport, Maine

BOTTOM LINE: During every preflight briefing specifically ask about ‘Temporary Flight Restrictions.‘ Don’t count on the FAA Web site though — the wheels of governmental html can turn slowly. Always speak with a briefer and ask for all NOTAMS applicable to your route of flight. Speaking with a briefer is your best bet at learning what areas are sensitive to flight at what time — although you may not always see it coming. …And don’t think that airspace restrictions always exist for living people — Figure 6 is George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon. Food for thought.

Figure 6 – Mt. Vernon
Posted in Law