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What Is a No-Fly Zone?

A no-fly zone is a designated airspace where aircraft are not permitted to enter, often established by a governing body to protect civilians or prevent military conflict. Enforced by military means, it's a powerful geopolitical tool with complex implications. Curious about its impact on global affairs? Discover how no-fly zones shape international relations and their consequences in our in-depth exploration.
Mark Wollacott
Mark Wollacott

A no-fly zone is an area or territory where planes are not permitted to fly. This can be part of a military operation in which international troops enforce a United Nations (UN) regulation. A no-fly zone can also concern certain areas of land around which a national government does not want planes. Such areas are often classified, containing sensitive information and technologies.

Past no-fly zones include Iraq (1993-2003) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (1993-95). The Iraqi no-fly zone was set up by international forces, including Britain and Turkey, to protect Kurdish people in the northern part of the country. A similar zone was set up in 1992 to protect the Shiite population of southern Iraq. The Bosnian no-fly zone was designed to protect civilians from air raids.

The United Nations, which is headquartered in New York City, can establish a no-fly zone over a war-torn region.
The United Nations, which is headquartered in New York City, can establish a no-fly zone over a war-torn region.

Combat-related no-fly zones are created by groups of nations in response to conflict or humanitarian crises. The right to set up such a zone is designated by a UN Security Council resolution but, as in Kosovo, this is not always required. Securing such resolutions requires a majority vote in the council and no dissenting voices from the permanent members, including Britain, France, the U.S., Russia, and China.

Aircraft are not permitted to fly over the ruins of Machu Picchu, which are in the Cusco region of Peru.
Aircraft are not permitted to fly over the ruins of Machu Picchu, which are in the Cusco region of Peru.

No-fly zones are enforced by a combination of forces who have volunteered to take part. Enforcement can only be carried out once the opposition's own air force has been disabled. In order to protect patrolling planes, the UN allies also need to knock out the opposition’s anti-aircraft defenses. Bombing raids often attempt to destroy airfield take off and landing strips, too.

No-fly zones were established in Iraq from 1999 to 2003.
No-fly zones were established in Iraq from 1999 to 2003.

No-fly zone enforcement also requires logistical support. This refers either to nearby aircraft carriers or friendly airfields in neighboring countries. Air forces will use these resources to refuel, maintain, and re-arm their aircraft. Due to a lack of ground radar to help guide airplanes, military offenses enacted to enforce a no-fly zone rely upon Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes.

The airspace above Buckingham Palace -- the official residence of the British royal family -- is a no-fly zone.
The airspace above Buckingham Palace -- the official residence of the British royal family -- is a no-fly zone.

Non-military no fly zones often protect sensitive areas and facilities. For example, the nuclear facility in Kahuta, Pakistan, is covered by such a zone. In the U.S., there are no-fly zones around areas such as the nuclear assembly plant in Amarillo, Texas, and the naval submarine base in Kings Bay, Georgia.

A lesser known use of no-fly zones is to protect areas of cultural importance. A fine example of this kind of no-fly zone is the one over and around Machu Picchu in Peru. Another covers the Taj Mahal in India. Other examples include Buckingham Palace and Whitehall in Britain, the Taipei 101 building in Taiwan, and Constitution Avenue in Islamabad, Pakistan.

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Discussion Comments

Inaventu

@mrwormy, I think military or civilian radar picks up on anything getting too close to a no-fly zone and the pilot usually gets some kind of warning. The ones that get the military escort either ignored that warning or had mechanical problems. I wouldn't want to be that pilot when he or she finally lands.

mrwormy

Every once in a while, I'll read a story about small planes wandering into a no-fly zone by mistake. It's amazing how fast the government can scramble jet fighters when a thing like that happens. The pilot probably had no idea he was that far off course, then the next thing he sees are F-16s on both sides of his plane.

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    • The United Nations, which is headquartered in New York City, can establish a no-fly zone over a war-torn region.
      By: Touch
      The United Nations, which is headquartered in New York City, can establish a no-fly zone over a war-torn region.
    • Aircraft are not permitted to fly over the ruins of Machu Picchu, which are in the Cusco region of Peru.
      By: Bryan Busovicki
      Aircraft are not permitted to fly over the ruins of Machu Picchu, which are in the Cusco region of Peru.
    • No-fly zones were established in Iraq from 1999 to 2003.
      By: www.doglikehorse.com
      No-fly zones were established in Iraq from 1999 to 2003.
    • The airspace above Buckingham Palace -- the official residence of the British royal family -- is a no-fly zone.
      By: bayu harsa
      The airspace above Buckingham Palace -- the official residence of the British royal family -- is a no-fly zone.