The FAA controls just about everything about civilian aircraft in US airspace in terms of regulation, certification, flight rules, etc. Do they have any authority over military aircraft beyond requiring military flights to communicate with ATC for safety and designating certain areas as military airspace?

This question addresses retired military aircraft in civilian use, and one of the answers to this question mentions a "Surplus military" category, but nothing about active military. I'm asking about current, active military aircraft in terms of certification, pilot licensing/qualification, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ If you include as military aircraft civilian operators in civilian aircraft flying military contract flights, those flights are subject to all the usual FAA regulations. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 19:03

3 Answers 3


If they are being operated by the military, not much. Military operations can exempt themselves from the FARs (as a matter of practice they don't: When operating in the US National Airspace System they follow the same operational regulations we do, but as a matter of regulation they're subject to the military's rules for airworthiness, maintenance, etc.).

Military pilots have a military pilot's license (which can be converted to an FAA license with a little paperwork), and the airworthiness and maintenance standards for active military aircraft are defined and managed by the branch of the service responsible for the aircraft. (This is similar to, but legislatively distinct from, Public Aircraft Operations.)

This doesn't mean the FAA is completely silent about military operations/aircraft: There is guidance for military aircraft that are based on commercial designs (also available in an easier-to-read Advisory Circular: AC 20-169), which would be applicable to aircraft like the VC-25 ("Air Force One").

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    $\begingroup$ The US military doesn't actually issue a "military pilot's license". Instead, the authorization to fly as a pilot is the cumulative effect of multiple other authorizations, the most famous of which is the pilot/aviator badge worn on a military uniform. The pilot badge in the Air Force represents a Pilot rating in the Air Aorce. There are other non-pilot ratings in the Air Force as well, besides pilot. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 15:39

All good answers, just to add:

Yes, our regulations are usually more stringent such as weather minimums for example (filing, including an alternate, fuel requirements, night, etc.). However, with other things we do have a bit more leeway than civilians.

I'm not going to list all the differences, but if you want you could check out some of the publications we're bound by:

AFI 11-202 Vol 3
AFMAN 11-217 Vol 1
AFMAN 11-217 Vol 2
AFMAN 11-217 Vol 3

That's just a subset of what binds us; I'm not going to list them all here but we have regulations and procedures for specific jets based on MAJCOMs, Ops Groups, Wings, etc. The military changes a lot more quickly and often than civilian flying does. Additionally flying in one MAJCOM may be totally different than another. Likewise, one airfield, wing, or squadron will have totally different SOPs than another airfield, wing, or squadron.

Finally, although VFR aircraft CAN fly through a MOA, please don't do it. It interrupts our ops since we have to call knock-it-off and either wait for you to leave or proceed to a different area.

  • $\begingroup$ Suggest you edit this to identify it as Air Force. You cited only Air Force regs. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 20:49

As mentioned here and here, FAA's responsibilities include:

Developing and operating a system of air traffic control and navigation for both civil and military aircraft

However, FAA does not govern military aircraft. The military has their own rules and regulations, but the military follows FAA regulations when flying in National Airspace. There is airspace in the US and elsewhere that is set aside for military operations such as the Barry Goldwater Gunnery Range. Military jets can fire at targets on the ground and civilian aircraft are kept out. There are many others.

As needed, FAA does make special allowances for the military. Below is an example of a Military operations area.


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    $\begingroup$ One minor nitpick: The FAA does not "prohibit" non-military aircraft from entering MOAs. This is a common misconception (and perhaps one the military would like to see become reality), but it's not the case. IFR aircraft will be routed around active MOAs if ATC cannot ensure IFR separation requirements will be met, but it is perfectly legal to fly VFR through an active MOA. It is however prudent to avoid doing so where possible, or at least exercise caution if you must. (Ref. AIM 3-4-5 $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, Voretaq just beat me to it. You can enter an MOA, even if it's not necessarily a good idea. MOAs are supposed to be used for non-hazardous military activity. Actual restricted airspace is used for areas where the military is performing potentially hazardous activities. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ As noted above, the Barry Goldwater Gunnery range is in R-2301 E, a Restricted area. $\endgroup$
    – NathanG
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ @NathanG I would hope so if they're firing at the ground. - lol - I'm thinking that an MOA like the ones in the image that end at 500 ft AGL wouldn't work well for such operations. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 18:40

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