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White House Locked Down Due To Airspace Violation

The White House and Capitol Building were subject to a lockdown this morning for about half an hour. The cause of the security measure was apparently a small airplane that had wandered into restricted areas around the District of Columbia.

“The White House was locked down this morning due to a potential violation of the restricted airspace in the National Capital Region,” a Secret Service spokesman told CNBC in a statement. “The lockdown has been lifted at this time.”

The North American Aerospace Defense Command said that the airplane was not considered hostile, but the Aerotime Hub reported that fighter jets were scrambled shortly before 9:00 a.m. local time to intercept the errant plane, which was traveling eastward across Washington, DC as federal employees were told to shelter in place.

General aviation operations have been restricted around the District of Columbia since the September 11 attacks in 2001. Under current FAA rules, there is a flight restricted zone (FRZ) within 15 miles of Reagan National airport that extends to 18,000 feet. Civilian operations within the FRZ are limited to scheduled airline and charter flights or air ambulance flights. All civilian flights within the FRZ require special authorization.

An Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) surrounds the FRZ and extends to a 30-mile radius. This airspace is similar to the airspace around the US border and requires special flight plans with a prior clearance. Aircraft operating within the ADIZ are also required to be in contact with air traffic control.

There are several civilian general aviation airports located in Northern Virginia and Maryland that are located near the ADIZ. These airports were present long before the new security rules were established.

In the years after the ADIZ was first established, it was not uncommon for pilots unfamiliar with the area to violate the airspace. These pilots were often punished with suspensions of their pilot licenses and fines. As local and transient pilots were educated about the ADIZ, incursions into the airspace became less common.

Similarly, in the post-9/11 world, Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) are often posted to restrict flight around occurrences such as presidential appearances and sporting events. TFRs have resulted in many pilot violations, especially since they are often posted with little notice.

This morning’s alert is most likely the result of transient pilot who failed to check the notices to airmen (NOTAMs) that detail the restrictions for flying around the District of Columbia. Federal law military and law enforcement takes such transgressions seriously, however, until the perpetrator is shown not to be a threat.

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