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Air Traffic Services Brief -- FAA Special Awareness Training for the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area

FAA Special Awareness Training for the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area

The Issue

On August 12, 2008, the FAA issued a final rule entitled, “Special Awareness Training for the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area”.  This rule requires any pilot who flies under VFR within a 60 nm radius of the DCA VOR/DME to complete the required training course.  This rule is now codified under FAR 91.161.

The free course has been developed by the FAA and is available online at  You will first be required to register with the web site before enrolling in the course.  The FAA is only requiring that the training obligation be met once.  For any questions about the FAA Safety web site, you can contact FAAST team support at 1-888-863-4811.


Since the creation of the FRZ shortly after the 9/11 attacks and the ADIZ in February 2003, there have been over 1,000 unauthorized flights, also known as airspace incursions. Despite the fact that all of the incursions have been determined to be inadvertent in nature, several of those incursions have come close enough to the Capitol and the White House that evacuation of these buildings and other federal office buildings was required.

In addition to the Washington ADIZ and FRZ, other temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) have been established over sensitive areas throughout the country for various reasons. The training includes information on these TFRs, as well as the Washington, D.C., restricted airspace areas. General aviation pilots have accounted for most (88 percent) of all the violations of restricted airspace, and according to a General Accountability Office (GAO) report, “pilot error is the biggest contributor to restricted airspace violations.”

In an effort to reduce the number of incursions, in 2005, the FAA proposed to mandate security awareness training to educate pilots and raise their awareness regarding restricted airspace. The proposal had originally called for a 100 nm radius, but was reduced to 60 nm in the final rule.

The Importance to Our Members

AOPA believes that the SFRA (formerly the ADIZ), as presently configured, is an unnecessary burden on law-abiding general aviation pilots whose relatively slow-moving, small aircraft do not represent a significant threat to Washington, D.C.

That said, training to improve pilot awareness of SFRA operations is clearly a positive action. However, AOPA does not support the FAA’s proposed training plan because the scope and some aspects of the training requirement are unreasonable.

This rule impacts any pilot who intends to operate VFR within 60 miles of the DCA VOR/DME.   Pilots have to complete the free online course offered at or attend an FAA Safety Program seminar offered by local flight standards district offices (FSDOs), if and when available.

Upon completion of the online course, pilots should print the certificate of training completion. While the document does not need to be carried with the pilot, it is required to be provided within a “reasonable amount of time” if requested.

The FAA will maintain a database of all the pilots who have completed the FAA’s online training course, and a duplicate copy of the certificate of training completion can be printed at any time without having to re-take the course.

All of the following operations are exempt from the training requirement:

  • Pilots operating under instrument flight rules (IFR);
  • Law enforcement, military, and aeromedical operations; and
  • A pilot who must deviate to the extent necessary to address an emergency situation.

However, if a pilot operating under IFR within 60 nm of the DCA VOR/DME decides to cancel IFR and continue the flight under VFR, he must have completed the training course requirement.

AOPA’s Position

AOPA supports training to improve pilot awareness of SFRA operations, but we do not support the FAA’s training requirements as a mandate. This requirement  essentially creates a de facto expansion of the SFRA and leads to more (not fewer) enforcement actions against pilots who have not actually violated the SFRA.

As an example, a pilot flying from Wilmington, DE (ILG) to Hagerstown, MD (HGR) to would need to complete the required training, even though he’ll remain outside the SFRA at all times.  AOPA does not believe that a pilot reasonably expects that he would have to be concerned about the SFRA.

There’s another problem for IFR pilots. Pilots flying near the SFRA on an IFR flight plan wouldn’t be required to have the SFRA training. But consider someone flying IFR from Wilmington, Delaware (ILG), to Frederick, MD (FDK). The weather is good, so the pilot cancels IFR 10 nm out to expedite his arrival. The pilot is now VFR and must have the SFRA training, even though he is outside the SFRA.