So you may have seen the video above in a previous TOPIC. I’d still recommend going ahead and watching it once more since special use airspace is really just a special way for you to fail your checkride (and SFRA’s are some of the most special!).
A Special Flight Rules Area is really exactly what it says, an area where the FAA has designated special rules that apply just to that area and not anywhere else. This creates small areas of airspace around our country that if we intend to operate in or near them, that we must familiarize ourselves with that airspace before going flying. Each area has its own unique set of rules and for its own reasons (i.e. Washington DC SFRA is set up for national security, while the NYC SFRA is set up to deal with the high volume of traffic in very congested airspace).
SFRA’s exist under the authority of 14CFR Part 93 (which you can read in its entirety here). Each SFRA’s rules are listed in Part 93, however, to understand them each in more plain English, we’d recommend starting out by looking at the VFR sectional for that area (even if you intend to fly under IFR). On the VFR Sectional, you’ll see some of the rules spelled out, or notes directing you where to look for more information. For example, the SFRA around the Panhandle of FL tells you just about everything you need to know when flying in the area around Eglin AFB. It’s still a wise idea, however, that after you review the sectional chart, to then go ahead and review the relevant subpart of Part 93, and see if there are any hidden “gotchas”.
Preparing to fly in or around a SFRA
Another good step to take is to check out the FAA website and see if they have a simpler version explained either there, or on FAASAFETY.gov (for example, the FAA provides a free course you are required to take prior to operating around the Washington DC area SFRA).
Here’s the biggest gotcha: Filing IFR doesn’t absolve you from the rules surrounding some of these special flight rules areas. For instance, flying through the “flight free” zones in the Grand Canyon SFRA is prohibited when below 14,500′ msl. Just because a controller erred and cleared you down to 10,000′ under IFR, they won’t let you off the hook if you fly along V210 in the Southeast corner of the SFRA below the minimum altitude required by Part 93, (not necessarily what you might see on the chart at first glance as the MEA is 14,500′, however many students mistakenly believe they can legally fly as low as 9,600′ based on the MOCA.
To sum it up, when you see a SFRA near your route of flight, get as familiar with it as you can via:
- Part 93
- Low Charts
- Sectional Charts
- Special Charts for that Area
- Local Pilot Knowledge
You are always ultimately responsible for knowing what the rules really are and following those rules, so the best you can do is stack the deck in your favor and use ALL available resources to become familiar with a particular SFRA (just like you become familiar with ALL other aspects of your flight before departure). If you think someone is giving you iffy information about a SFRA (or anything else for that matter) take it upon yourself to verify with the source (FAA) and look it up in the regs, or reach out to the appropriate overseeing agency.