Apparently, even if you have declared an urgent situation or an emergency, you cannot enter restricted or prohibited airspace, and ATC may not be able to clear you into the area. So, my question:

If you had a serious condition onboard an aircraft (say severe icing) and high terrain (I know, you probably haven't planned) in all directions except for restricted or prohibited airspace, what should you do to try and make sure that people are aware of your situation and can try and minimise the risk of doing so?

  • $\begingroup$ Disclaimer: not a real pilot. I'd do squawk 7700, explain situation to ATC and would collect as many evidences as possible (photos, etc) to prove you were forced to enter restricted/prohibited airspace. $\endgroup$
    – orique
    Jan 14, 2014 at 11:37
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with the no pictures part. In an emergency, you have your hands full already. Worry about legal issues when you are safe on the ground! $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Jan 14, 2014 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ As PIC you can deviate from any FAA regulation as necessary to maintain the safety of flight. Like the comments above and answers below, first deal with staying alive. You might get intercepted and you might be greeted w/guns on the ground but you will be alive. You will then additional years left on your life to deal with the ensuing paperwork and possible legal battles. I will say I did get priority service and a greeting party for an instrument failure in IMC, it amounted to a phone call that ended with "You did the right thing to declare." (Wasn't restricted airspace though just Class C) $\endgroup$
    – p1l0t
    Jan 14, 2014 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ @p1l0t Keep in mind that very often special use airspace (particularly restricted and prohibited area) are governed by agencies other than the FAA. And those agencies don't always agree with things like the PIC's emergency authority. $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Jan 14, 2014 at 18:31
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    $\begingroup$ @orique Yeah, that's a great idea, but he was on the ground after the emergency was over then! :-) $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Jan 14, 2014 at 22:02

2 Answers 2


Even if ATC can't legally give you permission to enter prohibited airspace (they sometimes can for restricted airspace by the way), if you declare an emergency they will still coordinate with the controlling agency which will help to keep you safe.

Squawk 7700, fly as high as possible, turn on all your lights, broadcast your intentions on 121.5 if you aren't talking to ATC, and don't make any sudden dives toward the ground/buildings, etc. This will all help to show that you aren't trying to "sneak in under the radar" and can only improve your situation.

Don't be surprised if you get intercepted though, and make sure that you talk to them on 121.5 if you do. Know your intercept procedures (section 5-6-2) and follow them exactly. They will most likely try to help you as much as possible. You will still face a lot of questions and probably even certificate action when you get on the ground though because, as you said, poor planning is no excuse....

Also, this applies in the US. Some other countries (possibly Cuba, Iran, etc.) tend to be far more sensitive to issues like this and may "shoot first and ask questions later".

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    $\begingroup$ Some other countries (possibly Cuba, Iran, etc.) may "shoot first and ask questions later". : As far as I know, it is the United States navy that shot down an Iranian civilian passenger flight on 3 July 1988 in the very same way that you wrote about Iran. I am deeply sorry about your unilateral judgement. $\endgroup$
    – Mostafa
    Jul 18, 2014 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Mostafa That was a terrible incident, however my answer was specifically addressing restricted and prohibited airspace within the US. I would imagine that most countries in the Middle East would be far less tolerant of the situation that he asks about than here in the continental US which is what I described in my answer. Do you disagree? $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Jul 18, 2014 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Mostafaııııııııııııııııııııııı: That was indeed a terrible tragedy. It is interesting to note that the onboard data recorders disagreed with the eyewitness testimony. The policy was to do no such thing. Now, what is the policy in Iran or Iraq? $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Jan 25, 2018 at 4:03

Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. In that order.

First, solve the in-flight emergency. If that truly means penetrating prohibited or restricted airspace, do it.

Second, navigate to exit the prohibited or restricted airspace as soon as possible.

Third, Communicate to ATC what you are doing and why. Follow instructions given if they don't conflict with your safety.

Finally, when on the ground, file a NASA ASRS report. Explain what/where/why. Pictures etc to document this are a good idea but not in flight. You have an emergency situation... what are you fiddling with a camera for? Take them on the ground. If you have time to take in-flight photos (icing) they can be used against you unless you have a plane certified for flight in icing conditions.


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