The beauty of commercial air travel is that, with the correct paperwork, there are very few totally inaccessible parts of the world. However, particular areas have strict airspace restrictions that prohibit the entry of commercial aircraft. These can be due to such factors as political, religious, historical and environmental reasons. Let’s take a look at some examples.
Areas of religious significance
The Islamic holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia could be a useful area for aircraft to pass over if they were en route to Jeddah from the East or the Saudi capital of Riyadh. However, religious customs mean that airlines are prohibited from entering Mecca and, particularly, flying over the Holy Kaaba. Passenger aircraft are not allowed to travel over Mecca as a mark of respect to this holy site.
Non-Muslims are not permitted to travel to Mecca, as it is a sacred place for the Islamic faith, and the center of the Hajj pilgrimage. This rule of keeping Mecca for the Muslim population is so strictly upheld that non-Muslims in Mecca can face a fine and deportation. This would include non-Muslims who fly over Mecca, hence commercial aircraft are prohibited.
Areas of environmental significance
Aviation has caused quite a stir in Peru in recent years. The building of Chinchero Airport, which remains under construction, is highly opposed by activists and historians. Due to the area’s fragile ecology and the significance of the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu, an airport is the last thing that this region needs.
As it is, aircraft are not allowed to fly over Machu Picchu, which is a site of extreme cultural significance. The area also has a delicate balance of nature, which is best left untouched. The danger with flying commercial aircraft over the region is that, should any aircraft crash or have an emergency landing in the area, it would undoubtedly damage the precious ecosystem. Furthermore, the side-effects of increased pollution in this region could prove destructive for natural habitats.
Areas of historical significance
Much like flying over Machu Picchu, the reason that passenger aircraft steer clear of the Parthenon in Athens is to protect this historical wonder. This impressive structure on the Athenian Acropolis was a temple dedicated to the Ancient Greek goddess Athena.
While aircraft are permitted to fly over this monument, they must give it a wide berth. Specifically, no aircraft are allowed to fly below 5,000 feet when above the Parthenon.
Areas of political significance
London’s Downing Street is one of the most significant streets in the UK. Home to the serving British Prime Minister, access to this gated location requires special permissions.
As a measure of protecting the country’s political elite, aircraft are not allowed to fly directly over this street. In the same vein, a similar restriction also applies above the Houses of Parliament. The Queen’s residences at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle also feature no-fly zones directly over these luxurious structures.
Protecting customer safety
There are also numerous places around the world where restrictions have been issued to increase visitor safety. After 9/11, certain US tourist hotspots felt a need to increase their security. As such, commercial aircraft are not allowed to fly over some of them even today.
In 2003, a temporary ban on flying over Disney parks was made permanent. It dictates that no aircraft can fly below 3,000 feet over Walt Disney World in Florida, or Disneyland in California. In any case, this restriction is not such a concern for commercial aircraft, as there would little reason to fly so low in these areas anyway.
Similar bans to protect people from future aircraft-based terrorist attacks have also been implemented for other visitor hotspots. These include the airspace above stadiums in the US, which seat more than 30,000 spectators.
Other than the above-stated no-fly zones, aircraft movements can be restricted for various other reasons, including some not-so-obvious ones and sometimes, due to evolving geopolitical situations.
For instance, commercial flights avoid flying over the Tibet Autonomous Region in China, despite its vast size. The reason for this primarily comes down to the geography of the region. Because of the mountains here, the average height of the terrain is over 14,000 feet. This is likely to cause problems in the event of cabin depressurization when an aircraft has to descend to 10,000 feet before diverting to an airport.
Furthermore, air currents rise over the mountains, creating disrupting flows, and as such, an aircraft is more likely to face turbulence here.
Then there are no-fly zones due to political reasons, which are meant for only certain airlines depending upon their country of origin. The Ukraine-Russia conflict has left the world divided, giving birth to several sanctions.
One of them is the restriction of airspace for certain carriers. For instance, the EU, US, and Canada shut their airspace to all Russian planes following its invasion of Ukraine, and Russia retaliated with a similar ban on planes from these places to fly over its vast terrain.
This caused a major disruption in flight services across the globe, with several airlines, particularly those connecting North America with Asia, having to re-route their flights or suspend some services altogether.
Have you ever visited any of these destinations? Do you know of any other no-fly zones? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!