Winter Snowbird Traffic and VACAPES Airspace

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Updated November 12, 2015

Thanksgiving Holiday Air Traffic Management Plans Released Between the Northeast, Floridas
Nov. 12, 2015
The U.S. military will again be opening portions of the VACAPES airspace off the mid-Atlantic coast to civilian air traffic, expanding the amount of airspace available along the East Coast, particularly in the Jacksonville, FL and Washington, DC centers. Portions of the military airspace will be available from Nov. 25 to 30. In addition, flights out of New York-area satellite airports, typically filed over the WHITE departure fix, can expect offload routes during specific time periods of high demand. Learn more.
East Coast Military Airspace Released for Thanksgiving Holiday Routes
November 17, 2014
In an effort to minimize holiday air travel delays, the U.S. military will again be opening portions of the VACAPES airspace off the mid-Atlantic coast to civilian air traffic, reducing airspace congestion along the East Coast, particularly in the Jacksonville and Washington centers. This airspace will be available between Nov. 25 and Dec. 1, and will allow for additional routes between the Northeast and Florida during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. In addition, flights out of the New York satellite airports, typically filed over the WHITE departure fix, can expect offloads routes during specific time periods. NBAA Air Traffic Services (ATS) has provided a web resource to guide operators as to which routes will be used and where to find updated information on the web. View the ATS web resource.


Durng certain times of the year, particularly during the winter, seasonal traffic between the northeastern US and Florida increases dramatically. This increase in traffic presents a challenge to traffic flow managers and requires the implementation of some additional planning.

Problems can also arise during summer convective season, when this east coast traffic needs to be "off-loaded" from the inland routes (where the convective weather normally is) and placed onto offshore routes.

During both the typical high volume during Winter Snowbird Season and during Summer Severe Weather (SWAP) Events, the use of offshore radar routes can minimize departure delays between northeast airports and central and south Florida airports. Although the offshore radar routes add mileage and time enroute, the extra airborne minutes are usually less than the departure delays would be. Also, operators flying these offshore radar routes will typically be exempt from Airspace Flow Program EDCTs, since they are, in effect, routing around the congested airspace.

When are the offshore radar routes in use?

Offshore radar routes are used as recommended by ATC. They are available for traffic going both northbound and southbound.

Operators must be over-water equipped, RVSM capable, and able to fly above FL310. ATC cannot assign the route without a crew request or without the crew's acceptance of the route. Operators are encouraged to to use these routes in their original flight planning. However, if another route has been filed, the operator can still request changing to these off-shore routes, prior to taxi, in order to reduce their delay. If a recommended reroute advisory is not issued, the operator can file or request anyway, but they may be moved back to the shorter preferred route if there are no delays.

Acceptance of an offshore radar route indicates acknowledgement that the route requirements are met as well as a commitment to fly the entire route. (Part 91 requirements can be found in FAR Part 91.509 and FAR Part 91.511.)

For more information regarding offshore radar routes, contact NBAA Air Traffic Services at

Virginia Capes Operating Area (VACAPES)

The Virginia Capes Operating Area (VACAPES) is a block of military airspace, located off of the mid-Atlantic coast, which is used for training exercises and weapons testing. Occasionally, the military will make this airspace available to civil aircraft operators, particularly when there is an expected high volume of traffic along the East Coast - such as during Winter Snowbird season. When this occurs, air traffic control (ATC) will generally create several routes through the VACAPES airspace. As these routes become available, they are posted as advisories in the FAA Advisories Database and are viewable as part of the FAA Playbook Routes.