Disneyland And Walt Disney World Are No-Fly Zones

Disneyland and Walt Disney World are no-fly zones

Aerial photographs of Disney's theme parks are rare these days. That's not because they're boring or dumb. They're impossible to take, because Disneyland and Walt Disney World are prohibited air space. And it's not just because of terrorism, either.

Back in 2003, Disney successfully talked Congress into bending its own rules and declaring no-fly zones over its theme parks. It seemed like a sensible idea at the time. Congress was rushing through a massive spending bill ahead of the war in Iraq, and Disney snuck in a no-fly provision for its theme parks, something the company had been trying to do for years. The restricted air space now has a three-mile radius around both Disneyland in Anaheim and Walt Disney World in Orlando.

An Orlando Sentinel investigation from that year revealed the back story: "Without public debate or even a request from the new Homeland Security Department, Congress bent its own rules to help Disney secure the no-fly zones at the urging of at least one well-connected company lobbyist." It's amazing what the urging of at least one well-connected Disney lobbyist can do.

But why? Why would Disney want a no-fly zone over its theme parks? Turns out, it has less to do with security than it does to do with annoying aerial advertisements.

Disneyland and Walt Disney World are no-fly zones

A rare aerial shot of Walt Disney World, when it opened in 1971.

Disney's attempts to establish a no-fly zone over Disneyland and Walt Disney World are documented. The Sentinel even got Disney on the record, admitting that it wasn't just the terrorist threat — if there ever was a terrorist threat. After all, despite drawing similarly sized crowds, other theme parks like Six Flags didn't get no fly zones. But a Disney spokesperson told the paper:

"The sole and exclusive motivation for seeking these restrictions is for the safety and enjoyment of our guests," said Disney spokeswoman Leslie Goodman, explaining that "enjoyment" meant everything from keeping out "banner ads from trial lawyers" to pilots "buzzing the parks."

Banner ads sound a lot less threatening than biological weapons. The sad side of Disney's political manoeuvring is that over 100 aerial advertising business that used to fly over the parks went out of business after the no-fly zone was implemented. And according to a recent Los Angeles Times investigation, it's unlikely that the restrictions will be lifted any time soon.

So enjoy your next trip to Disneyland. And thank George W. Bush for starting a loosely justified war that gave a big, rich corporation the opportunity to bend the law in its favour with well-connected lobbyists. Disney surely wasn't the only company that profited from that weird moment in American history.

Image: Flickr / Dave Bloggs / State Archives of Florida

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    So...this has been in effect for 11 years and you're reporting on it now? Who cares? Why the conspiratorial tone in the article? One of the most visited vacation destinations in the world wants to own their air rights - not sure I see a problem with that.

    "Aerial photographs of Disney’s theme parks are rare these days."

    Not really true. People (including me) take aerials of Walt Disney World on a regular basis. Pretty decent ones too. Many of the WDW fan sites/forums show aerials all the time. A 30 second web search will prove that.

    "They’re impossible to take, because Disneyland and Walt Disney World are prohibited air space."

    That's factually incorrect and misleading. The airspace over Walt Disney World is not prohibited. Never has been. There are certain restrictions (called a TFR) regulating how low aircraft can normally fly over a certain portion of their property.

    In Florida that restriction only exists within a 3nm (5.5km) ring centered on the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World, excluding one the four theme parks and most of two others. It is not unusual to see tour helicopters (and some times fixed-wing aircraft) flying at low altitude along the southern side of Epcot, many of the hotels, and around Animal Kingdom.

    Except for the altitude restriction pilots can fly over the parks all they want. Companies that have legitimate reasons for conducting low-level aerial photography missions over the property can obtain waivers to do that type of flying.

    It's fair to note that similar restrictions are in place for major sporting events in the US that can have an attendance of 30,000 people or more (major league baseball, football, Indycar and NASCAR racing, even college sporting events are restricted). Disneyland and The Magic Kingdom both exceed that attendance regularly.

    TFRs were made common immediately after the attacks on September 11 2001. The government found cause to create them and the new flight rules we live with on a daily basis. There's no doubt WDW's management doesn't want aerial advertisers around the parks, but in fairness the TFRs they enjoy are really no different than TFRs we have for other sites/events with large attendance figures. Other similar sites could probably make a successful argument for TFRs too.

    Last edited 24/11/14 5:53 am

      I should have read this before posting my reply. I know darn well I've seen planes over EPCOT, multiple times on multiple trips. Why is this article so incredibly inaccurate?

    Almost good journalism there, until the last paragraph then you go and undo a decent story with an opinion. Right or wrong let the readers judge from facts.

    So then why every, every time I go to DW, do I see planes flying over EPCOT (specifically) with messages saying JESUS LOVES YOU and all kinds of other Christian messages? Apparently they're allowing SOMEONE to fly, right?

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