In my local area there is an instrument approach that skirts the edge of a restricted area by a mile or two. The TRACON for this approach is not the controlling agency for the restricted area. When the restricted area is active, the TRACON will not give clearance for the instrument approach unless the weather is VMC. Is there a requirement that ATC cannot have pilots flying too close to Prohibited/Restricted areas in IMC? Even if they're flying a published procedure?

Is this different for VFR flights?

  • $\begingroup$ "TRACON will not give clearance for the instrument approach unless the weather is VMC" You mean unless the weather is IMC? $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Mar 9 at 2:15
  • $\begingroup$ Negative. They will not allow us to fly close to the restricted area unless we are VMC (they might have us cancel IFR) $\endgroup$ – asb1230 Mar 9 at 22:00

ATC will separate IFR traffic from active special-use airspace according to the separation minima prescribed in the 7110.65 9–3–2:

  • Vertical separation: 500 feet above or below a prohibited/restricted/warning/MOA/ATCAA/ALTRV area (1000 feet above or below, if above FL290).
  • Radar separation: 3 miles from the periphery of special-use airspace; or for specific areas that have been designated by management as not needing 3 miles, simply "clear of" the periphery.
  • Non-radar separation: On airways whose protected airspace does not overlap the special-use airspace. (Remember that Federal airways extend four or more miles from each side of the centerline.)

Note that VFR traffic are explicitly mentioned as not prohibited from flying through a transitional hazard area (a term I think is used in conjunction with spacecraft launch and reentry). It is also "common knowledge" that VFR aircraft may fly through an active MOA but not active R- or P-airspace; however I can't seem to find anything that says this explicitly. R- and P- airspace is discussed at 14 CFR 91.133, which does not mention MOAs.

Without knowing the specific situation you're talking about, my guess is that when the restricted area is hot the TRACON is withholding an approach clearance using that approach for all IFR aircraft whether IMC or VMC, and only permitting VFR practice approaches to use it.


Restricted Areas (...) If the restricted area is active and has not been released to the controlling agency (FAA), the ATC facility will issue a clearance which will ensure the aircraft avoids the restricted airspace unless it is on an approved altitude reservation mission or has obtained its own permission to operate in the airspace and so informs the controlling facility. (AIM)

How close you can fly, per the AIM's wording above, is not a distance, rather up to the ATC's instructions, unless the mentioned waivers apply. Checking 14 CFR:

(...) Upon the request of the FAA, the using agency shall execute a letter establishing procedures for joint use of a restricted area by the using agency and the controlling agency (...) 14 CFR § 73.15

Which means the established procedures, like the regular one you encounter, are coordinated between the using agency and the FAA.

Regarding VFR flights, restricted areas are not wholly prohibited:

(...) while not wholly prohibited (...) Penetration of restricted areas without authorization from the using or controlling agency may be extremely hazardous to the aircraft and its occupants. (AIM)

To summarize:

  • How close is managed by the ATC (see @randomhead 's answer)
  • ATC's actions are already coordinated with the using agency
  • While not wholly prohibited, restricted areas may be extremely hazardous.

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