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Texas Republican Attempts to Strip Disney of No-Fly Zone Privilege

Amid a continued political feud between Disney and the state of Florida, a Texas congressman has now chimed in with his own attempt to amend Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s privileges.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been outspoken recently about repealing the Reedy Creek Improvement District that the Walt Disney World Resort enjoys in Florida.

Now, Texas Republican Troy Nehls is looking to strip Disney of its no-fly-zone privileges over its Florida and California theme parks.

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Starting in June 2023, the state of Florida has recently voted to revoke the special self-governing privileges afforded to the Walt Disney World Resort.

The move has been seen as retaliation for Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s critical stance on Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill. Disney initially shied away from making a public statement regarding Florida’s new bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which many people believe targets the LGBTQ+ community and restricts conversations about gender and LGBTQ+ identities in schools.

Disney’s aggressive stance caused a war with Florida’s governing body. And now, after a House vote and one signature from DeSantis, Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista looks set to lose its Reedy Creek special treatment. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis criticized Disney, saying, “They do not run this state. They do not control this state.”

Texas Congressman Troy Nehls has now revealed on Twitter that he has sent letters to both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about Disney’s restricted airspace, given to the company in a 2003 law:

Why does @Disney get special treatment? 

Today, I sent two letters to @SpeakerPelosi and @SecretaryPete asking them whether or not they supported the “No-Fly Zones” over Disney’s theme parks considering no other theme parks in the country received the same preferential treatment.

In an interview with FOX Business, Nehls said that “Major corporations should not get unreasonable privileges just because they have the ability to bankroll Congress, especially when they are trying to force their ideology on our children.”

In the letters to Pelosi and Buttigieg, the Texas congressman writes that “special interests may have hijacked” the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) “mandate” of making the skies safe and efficient “in the sheep’s clothing of national security, for commercial gain.”

“The FAA has authority to prohibit or limit aircraft from operating in certain airspace. These flight restrictions add complexity and restrict freedom – and they should be reserved for compelling national security and safety needs,” the letters read, pointing out that no-fly zones “reside over places of high security” like “military bases” or natural hazards.

Nehls also claims that Disney received “preferential” treatment as other theme parks in the Orlando area like Universal Studios Orlando and SeaWorld were not considered for the flight restrictions.

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Credit: Nehls

These Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) permanent flight restrictions were issued on October 27, 2014, for unnamed “security reasons”. According to officials, Disney is seen as a high-value target for terrorism due to its status as an American icon. Those federal government-designated protections grant the Disney Parks in Florida and California the same protection as the White House and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The no-fly zone rules require that no aircraft come within 3,000 feet in altitude of the theme parks for a radius of three miles. Any person or pilot who intentionally breaks the rules may be subject to criminal punishment under a violation of national defense airspace and could face fines or imprisonment for up to one year.

The no-fly zone, however, does not apply to Department of Defense or law enforcement aircraft (like the United States military’s Blue Angels), or air ambulance flight operations. Flights operated by Walt Disney World itself over Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom are also allowable under an approved waiver.

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Against the risk of terrorism and these security rules, Nehls continued, “Yet, because aircraft can be noisy or disruptive, interest groups may lobby Congress to enact restrictions for their benefit. The principle of fairness requires that the federal government does not favor one organization over another, or thereover, enact flight restrictions to benefit one favored organization.”

Nehls highlights the 2013 congressional testimony of FAA administrator Michael Huerta, who said, “Disney’s ‘no-fly zones’ do not meet standard requirements and would not be in place had Congress not enacted specific legislation.”

“Other independent observers have long questioned the security rationale for these ‘no-fly zones,’” Nehls writes. “In 2003, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the decision ‘angered pilots across the country who accuse Disney of manipulating the nation’s terrorism fear for one clear commercial aim: to close public airspace over its Parks as a way to ban competitors’ aerial advertising planes and sightseeing helicopters.’”

“This may be why in 2003, Disney’s spokesperson acknowledged that the flight restrictions would promote the ‘enjoyment’ of their Guests by eliminating ‘banner ads from trial lawyers’ and aircraft ‘buzzing the parks.’”

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Nehls ends the letter by asking the Speaker to have the House “reconsider” the controversial no-fly zones’ “appropriateness” after two decades of their implementation, as measures “designed for protecting our national security and public safety must not be co-opted by companies looking to gain.”

Neither the Transportation Department nor Pelosi’s office have commented yet on Troy Nehls’ letters, but we’ll keep you posted on this Walt Disney World and Disneyland theme park fly-zone debate. 

About Melissa Cannioto

Melissa is an author, adventurer, and chatterbox, who loves to enjoy Disney's theme parks with a Mickey Premium Bar in hand! A British native, she has traveled the world seeking new experiences, and now resides in Florida with her Air Force pilot husband. Find her children's book at @thebearandthehug_book