Ever wondered why airplanes would not always fly in a straight line from one point to another? After all, they’re in the air, what could possibly stop them?
Well, there are plenty of reasons for that, and while some are common, others might be harder to explain.
Let’s start with…
It seems surprising that the capital of France, Despite having four airports within its city limits, has prohibited airspace. No airplanes or helicopters are allowed to fly over the city, but if you’ve ever been to Paris, you’ve probably smirked now because you’ve seen commercial planes there.
There’s an exception, you see: airplanes can only fly no lower than 6,500 ft high. As for helicopters, these are only allowed if they’re on a special mission, such as police surveillance or air rescue.
The whole country is under lock and key when it comes to foreign aircraft. There are, of course, domestic flights there, but any airplane that wants to cross the border of Cuba needs an express permission from the government to do so.
That’s why only specially authorized airplanes can land on Cuban ground, while all the rest will be considered violators.
Parthenon in Athens, Greece
The Parthenon is an ancient Greek monument and a place that thousands of tourists come to see every month. It was seriously damaged in the 17th century, and it’s currently being restored to its former glory.
That’s the main reason why no aircraft is allowed to fly over the Parthenon or in the area surrounding it at an altitude lower than 5,000 ft. And even airplanes flying from the nearby Athens airport are prohibited to do so.
All flights were prohibited over Moscow from 1960’s and up to 2013. That year, a new law was issued that finally allowed commercial airplanes to cross the sky over the Russian capital. But there’s still one rather big catch: they shouldn’t get lower than 26,500 ft.
Experts say that’s of little help to pilots, especially those departing from and arriving to the three major Moscow airports. But hey, every little thing counts, right? Official explanation of this restriction is security of the citizens, but there are many who disagree with this version.
In fact, not all of the country is a zone of no flights, but it is mostly divided into prohibited and restricted areas. That’s why, often, airplanes have to receive permission to fly over Sri Lanka’s territory.
By the way, there’s indeed a difference between a prohibited and a restricted area. Planes aren’t allowed to fly over prohibited areas at all, which can’t be said about restricted ones. These are only closed for air travel when there’s a special order for that. Anyway, in Sri Lanka, pilots must make sure they can traverse the air space over the country at all times, just to be on the safe side.
Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland
Phoenix Park isn’t a place of great strategic interest, but it’s being actively promoted to become a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s one of the largest parks in Europe and is home to the famous Dublin Zoo.
The Irish are proud of their park, and they’ve naturally done everything possible to protect it from harm, so flights have been prohibited over it for years now.
Constitution Avenue in Islamabad, Pakistan
This stretch of land in the capital city of Pakistan houses lots of government buildings, which is why no airplanes and only special helicopters are allowed to fly along the avenue. Any aircraft, even a commercial one, will be first politely asked to leave and escorted away, but then, if it ignores the request, the consequences might be not so peaceful.
This mountain chain is known as the Roof of the World, and rightfully so: they’re the tallest mountain peaks in the world, and most famous, of course, is Mountain. Everest. Interestingly, there is no prohibition to fly over the Himalayas whatsoever, and airplanes can easily climb higher than most of the mountains there. But still, pilots prefer to avoid tracing their route over them. So what’s the big deal?
Well, in case of emergency, the plane will have to reduce its altitude, and that has to do with the oxygen masks on board. You see, they only have about 15-20 minutes’ worth of oxygen in them, and during that time, the airplane must descend to at least 10,000 ft. That’s the altitude at which a person can breathe normally. But at the same time, it’s lower than the height of the Himalayan peaks!
So basically, if a plane has an emergency in that region, it will have to thread between the mountains while seeking some place to land and that’s another problem with the Himalayas because, well, it’s not exactly a flat area.
Finding a long enough stretch of ground for an airplane to land is no easy task. So flying over these mountains is not worth the risk, and pilots would rather give them a wide berth.
Taiwan Strait, China
Not all of it is closed for airplanes, but some parts of this great body of water can’t be flown over at any time.
The Taiwan Strait separates China from the island of Taiwan, and the reason why flights are partially prohibited over it is that the two have a rather strained relationship. There are no open conflicts, but both China and Taiwan take steps to protect themselves from each other.
Downing Street in London, UK
There are few places more important for the United Kingdom than Downing Street. It’s home to some of the most prominent British government officials, including the Prime Minister.
No wonder airplanes aren’t allowed to fly over this area, and neither are helicopters, drones, and any other flying vehicles. In fact, because of the street’s extreme importance, even simple people are restricted from walking there.
Only scheduled visitors can pass through the gates and see the famous residences with their own eyes.
Prairie Chapel Ranch near Crawford, Texas
A simple ranch looks weird next to all the rest of the places on my list, I know. I’ll give you a hint: during the period from 2001 to 2009, it was called the Western White House.
If you thought about George W. Bush, you’re right: Prairie Chapel Ranch was a Bush residence while he was the President of the US. A no-fly zone was established there right after Bush became the country’s leader, although he’d bought the ranch more than a year before that. After his term ended, the restricted zone became smaller, but it’s still in place, covering the area of 4 nautical miles in diameter.
Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia
There are two explanations as to why commercial airplanes never fly over Kaaba in Mecca.
The first one is said to be because of the magnetic anomaly over this place that makes navigation equipment go nuts. Another claim is that the pull of Earth’s gravity is stronger there, which means airplanes would have a hard time keeping their altitude.
Some even say that birds can’t fly over there either. This has never been proved, though, and there are security helicopters flying over the area just fine, so many people doubt this theory. The second explanation sounds a lot more plausible, if a bit down-to-earth.
First, there’s no airport in Mecca, which makes it illogical for airplanes to fly over the city. This may sound strange, given that Mecca is visited by dozens of millions of people every year, but the Saudi Arabia government is strict in this regard.
Secondly, Mecca has a designated prohibited airspace, so no civil aircraft is, in fact, allowed by law to fly over the city, and that’s why you’ll never see a plane above the Kaaba.
Machu Picchu, Peru.
The ban to fly over Machu Picchu has been in place since 2006. The government of Peru doesn’t allow any aircraft to approach the important historical site exactly because of its historical importance, as well as the unique wildlife in the area. I’ll explain: if an aircraft fell in the vicinity of Machu Picchu, it might crash right into the ancient building, dealing irreparable damage. But even if it crashed in the surrounding forest, the fire it would cause in case of explosion would destroy the fragile local ecosystem. No one would risk the invaluable heritage, so flights were simply banned over there.