- Airspace class
The world's navigable airspace is divided into three-dimensional segments, each of which is assigned to a specific class. Most nations adhere to the classification specified by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and described below. Individual nations also designate Special Use Airspace, which places further rules on air navigation for reasons of national security or safety.
On March 12, 1990, ICAO adopted the current airspace classification scheme. The classes are fundamentally defined in terms of flight rules and interactions between aircraft and Air Traffic Control (ATC). Some key concepts are:
- Separation: Maintaining a specific minimum distance between an aircraft and another aircraft or terrain to avoid collisions, normally by requiring aircraft to fly at set levels or level bands, on set routes or in certain directions, or by controlling an aircraft's speed.
- Clearance: Permission given by ATC for an aircraft to proceed under certain conditions contained within the clearance.
- Traffic Information: Information given by ATC on the position and, if known, intentions of other aircraft likely to pose a hazard to flight.
- ICAO adopted classifications
- Class A: All operations must be conducted under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) or Special visual flight rules (SVFR). All aircraft are subject to ATC clearance. All flights are separated from each other by ATC. Aircraft flying in Class A airspace are required to be IFR-equipped and have DME if flying above FL240. This airspace is managed by Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCCs)
- Class B: Surrounds major hub airports with heavy traffic operations. This airspace is layered, generally in the form of an upside-down wedding cake, so that it surrounds all aircraft approaching or departing from the airport up to 10,000 feet MSL. Operations may be conducted under IFR, SVFR, or Visual flight rules (VFR). All aircraft are required to receive an ATC clearance prior to entering Class B airspace. All flights are separated from each other by ATC. Required onboard equipment includes one VOR navigation unit. This airspace is managed by the approach/departure control facility linked to the airport with which the airspace is conjoined. Class B airspace is the most congested and the biggest airspace. You have to have certain specifications to be able to fly in class B airspace. These are: You must have a 2 way radio, to be able to have constant communication with ATC so you can stay updated with incoming aircraft and such. Also,you must have a mode C transponder(a mode C transponder is required in class A,B, amd C airspace). This allows the ATC to see your current altitude. Class B airspace has been known as a sort of an upside down cake like airspace because of its shape (a circle).
- Class C: Operations may be conducted under IFR, SVFR, or VFR. Entering Class C airspace only requires radio contact with the controlling air traffic authority, but an ATC clearance is ultimately required. Aircraft operating under IFR and SVFR are separated from each other and from flights operating under VFR. Flights operating under VFR are given traffic information in respect of other VFR flights. From the primary airport or satellite airport with an operating control tower must establish and maintain two-way radio communications with the control tower. This airspace is managed by the approach/departure control facility linked to the airport with which the airspace is conjoined.
- Class D: Operations may be conducted under IFR, SVFR, or VFR. All flights are subject to ATC clearance. Aircraft operating under IFR and SVFR are separated from each other, and are given traffic information in respect of VFR flights. Flights operating under VFR are given traffic information in respect of all other flights. The controlling authority for this airspace is the control tower for the associated airport, and radar may or may not be used.
- Class E: Operations may be conducted under IFR, SVFR, or VFR. Aircraft operating under IFR and SVFR are separated from each other, and are subject to ATC clearance. Flights under VFR are not subject to ATC clearance. As far as is practical, traffic information is given to all flights in respect of VFR flights.
- Class F: Operations may be conducted under IFR or VFR. ATC separation will be provided, so far as practical, to aircraft operating under IFR. Traffic Information may be given as far as is practical in respect of other flights.
- Class G: Operations may be conducted under IFR or VFR. ATC separation is not provided. Traffic Information may be given as far as is practical in respect of other flights.
The table below provides an overview of the above classes, and the specifications for each.
Class Controlled IFR SVFR VFR ATC Clearance Separation Traffic Information A Controlled Yes Yes No Required Provided for all flights N/A B Controlled Yes Yes Yes Required Provided for all flights N/A C Controlled Yes Yes Yes Required Provided for all IFR/SVFR Provided for all VFR D Controlled Yes Yes Yes Required Provided for IFR/SVFR to other IFR/SVFR Provided for all IFR and VFR E Controlled Yes Yes Yes Required for IFR Provided for IFR/SVFR to other IFR/SVFR Provided for all IFR where possible, to VFR where possible but only when requested F Uncontrolled Yes No Yes Not Required Provided for IFR/SVFR to other IFR/SVFR where possible Provided where possible G Uncontrolled Yes No Yes Not Required Not provided Provided where possible
Use of airspace classes
Each national aviation authority determines how it uses the ICAO classifications in its airspace design. In some countries, the rules are modified slightly to fit the airspace rules and air traffic services that existed before the ICAO standardisation.
Australia has adopted a civil airspace system based on the United States National Airspace System (NAS):
- Class A is used above FL 180 along the populated coastal areas, and above FL 245 elsewhere.
- Class B is not used.
- Class C is used in a 360° funnel shape in the Terminal Control Zones of the major international airports, extending up to the base of the Class A, generally at FL 180 over these airports. It also overlays Class D airspace at smaller airports.
- Class D is used for the Terminal Control Zones of medium sized airports, extending from the surface up to 4,500 feet (1,370 m). Above this, Class C airspace is used, although generally only in a sector, and not 360° around the airport.
- Class E is used along the populated coastal areas, from 8,500 feet (2,590 m) to the base of the overlying Class A or Class C airspace.
- Class F is not used.
- Class G is used wherever other classes are not—almost always from the surface to the base of the overlying Class A, C, D or E airspace.
Transition from GAAP to Class D
Australia used to have a non-standard class of airspace for use at the capital city general aviation airports, called a General Aviation Airport Procedures Zone (GAAP Zone). A control tower provided procedural clearances for all aircraft inside the zone. Additionally, any aircraft operating within 5 nm of the zone must obtain a clearance. VFR aircraft arrive and depart using standard arrival and departure routes, while instrument arrival and departure procedures are published for IFR operations. During visual meteorological conditions (VMC), IFR aircraft are not provided with full IFR services. During instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), or marginal VMC, VFR operations are restricted in order to facilitate full IFR service for IFR aircraft.
As of the 3rd of June 2010, all GAAP aerodromes were changed to Class D aerodromes, and the previous Class D procedures were changed. The new Class D procedures are similar to the FAA Class D procedures. VFR Aircraft are no longer required to enter the airspace via set inbound/outbound points, however can be directed there by ATC. VFR and IFR aircraft now require taxi clearance in the "manoeuvring area" of the aerodrome, but can still taxi within set apron areas without a clearance. IFR aircraft now receive slot times and the visibility requirements of Special VFR are reduced from 3000m Visibility to 1600m.
There are seven classes of airspace in Canada, and each is designated by a letter (A through G).
In Germany, Classes A and B are not used at all. Class C is used for Airspace above Flight Level (FL) 100 (or FL 130 near the Alps) up to FL 660. Airspace is divided into lower airspace below FL 245 and upper airspace above FL 245.
- Class A is not used.
- Class B is not used.
- Class C is used for controlled zones above and around airports and for airspace above FL 100 (or FL 130 near the Alps) up to FL 660.
- Class D is used for controlled zones, or above and around airspace Class C designated zones where CVFR is not necessary.
- Class E is used for airspace between usually 2,500 ft (760 m) AGL (around airports 1,000 ft (300 m) or 1,700 ft (520 m) AGL) and FL 100.
- Class F is used for IFR flight in uncontrolled airspace.
- Class G is used below 2,500 ft (760 m) AGL (around airports below 1,000 ft (300 m) AGL, then rises via a step at 1,700 ft (520 m) to 2,500 ft (760 m) AGL).
In Lithuania, Classes A and B are generally not used at all. Classes C and D are used in the following areas of controlled airspace of the Republic of Lithuania:
- in control zones (CTR);
- in terminal control areas (TMA);
- in control area (CTA);
- in upper control area (UTA).
Russia adopted a modified version of ICAO airspace classification on November 1, 2010. The division into classes for the airspace of Russia was introduced for the first time in the history of Russia.
The airspace above the territory of Russia is divided as follows:
- Class A applies to airspace above and including 8100 m (the boundary between lower and upper airspace in Russia). All operations in Class A airspace must follow IFR and are separated from each other by ATC. Permanent two-way radio contact with ATC is required. Permission for using airspace is required except for the special cases listed in clause 114 of the Federal rules for using Russian air space.
- Class B is not used.
- Class C airspace is defined below 8100 m and allows IFR and VFR operations. Both IFR and VFR operations are required to have permanent two-way radio contact with ATC. IFR flights are separated from each other and from VFR flights. VFR flights are separated from IFR flights and are provided traffic information about other VFR flights. Permission for using airspace is required.
- Class D is not used.
- Class E is not used.
- Class F is not used.
- Class G airspace is defined wherever Class A and Class C airspaces are not defined. Class G airspace allows IFR and VFR operations. For altitudes less than 3000 m (9843 ft) the speed must not exceed 450 km/h (280 mph). Flights are provided with flight information service as requested. IFR flights are required to have permanent two-way radio contact with ATC. No separation is provided by ATC. Prior notification of using airspace is required.
Airspace controlled by Russia outside the territory of Russia has different division into classes and includes redefined Class A and Class G, but no class C airspace.
- Class A:
- All airways up to FL 195 with the exception of airways lying within the Belfast CTR/TMA and the Scottish TMA.
- The Terminal Control Areas (TMAs) around London, Birmingham and Manchester.
- The London Control Zone around Heathrow and the Channel Islands Control Zone; these areas are thus off-limits to VFR flights (however Special VFR is used as a get-around for this).
- The CTAs of Daventry, Clacton, Cotswold and Worthing.
- Airways typically start at FL 70 and routing options become more attractive above FL 140.
- Class B: No Class B in the UK.
- Class C: All UK airspace between FL 195 and FL 660. (The Upper Flight Information Region (UIR) boundary begins at FL 245.)
- Class D:
- Class E: Parts of the Belfast and Scottish TMAs. A clearance is not required for VFR flights within Class E airspace, however pilots are strongly advised to contact the appropriate ATSU.
- Class F: "Advisory Routes" (ADRs), i.e. regularly used routes similar to airways but where traffic levels are not high enough to warrant establishment of an airway.
- Class G: All remaining airspace, comprising by far the largest part of the airspace below FL 195. The UK is unusual in that it has not adopted a widespread class E system of airways for most airspace lower than FL 70. Therefore for light aircraft, IFR flight in Class G airspace is relatively common. Use of a radio or transponder is not required, even in IMC. ATC units may provide an "as far as practical" form of separation between some such flights, but participation in the service is voluntary.
In addition the UK has a couple of special classes of airspace that do not fall within the ICAO classes:
- Aerodrome Traffic Zones (ATZ) are zones around an airport with a radius of 2 nm or 2.5 nm, extending from the surface to 2,000 ft (600 m) AAL (above aerodrome level). Aircraft within an ATZ must obey the instructions of the tower controller (if present), or must make radio contact with the Aerodrome Flight Information Service unit or Air/Ground Communication Service unit for the aerodrome before entering the zone (in the case of an uncontrolled airfield), or must obey ground signals if non-radio.
- Military Air Traffic Zones (MATZ) are zones from the surface to 3,000 ft (900 m) AAL (above aerodrome level) set up for 5 nm around military air bases in class G airspace. Stubs, 4 nm wide and 5 nm in length, extend from the main zone, are orientated with the aerodrome's main runway, and start at 1,000 ft (300 m) and go up to 3,000 ft (900 m). Military aircraft treat these as if they are controlled airspace; civilian traffic are advised but not obliged to do the same.
The U.S. adopted a slightly modified version of the ICAO system on September 16, 1993, when regions of airspace designated according to older classifications were converted wholesale. The exceptions are some Terminal Radar Service Areas (TRSA), which have special rules and still exist in a few places.
- With some exceptions, Class A airspace is applied to all airspace between 18,000 feet (5,500 m) and Flight Level 600 (approximately 60,000 ft). Above FL600, the airspace reverts to Class E. The transition altitude is also consistently 18,000 feet (5,500 m) everywhere. All operations in US Class A airspace must be conducted under IFR. SVFR flight in Class A airspace is prohibited.
- Class B airspace is used around major airports, in an inverted wedding cake shape that is designed to contain arriving and departing commercial air traffic operating under IFR, up to 10,000 feet (3,000 m) above MSL (12,000 feet MSL around Denver, Colorado). Aircraft must have established two-way radio communications with ATC, and obtained permission to enter the airspace.
- Class C airspace is used around airports with a moderate traffic level.
- Class D is used for smaller airports that have a control tower. The U.S. uses a modified version of the ICAO class C and D airspace, where only radio contact with ATC rather than an ATC clearance is required for VFR operations.
- Other controlled airspace is designated as Class E, this includes a large part of the lower airspace. Class E airspace exists in many forms. It can serve as a surface-based extension to Class D airspace to accommodate IFR approach/departure procedure areas. Class E airspace can be designated to have a floor of 700' AGL or 1,200' AGL, or a customized floor of any other altitude. Class E airspace exists above Class G surface areas from 14,500' MSL to 18,000 MSL. Federal airways from 1,200 AGL to 18,000 MSL within 4 miles (6 km) of the centerline of the airway is designated Class E airspace. Airspace at any altitude over 60,000' (the ceiling of Class A airspace) is designated Class E airspace.
- The U.S. does not use ICAO Class F.
- Class G (uncontrolled) airspace is mostly used for a small layer of airspace near the ground, but there are larger areas of Class G airspace in remote regions.
Airspace classes and VFR
Authorities use the ICAO definitions to derive additional rules for VFR cloud clearance, visibility, and equipment requirements.
For example, consider Class E airspace. An aircraft operating under VFR may not be in communication with ATC, so it is imperative that its pilot be able to see and avoid other aircraft (and vice versa). That includes IFR flights emerging from a cloud, so the VFR flight must keep a designated distance from the edges of clouds above, below, and laterally, and must maintain at least a designated visibility, to give the two aircraft time to observe and avoid each other. The low-level speed limit of 250 knots does not apply above 10,000 feet (3,000 m), so the visibility requirements are higher.
On the other hand, in Class B airspace, separation is provided by ATC to all flights. Now the VFR flight only needs to see where it is going, so visibility requirements are reduced and there is no designated minimum distance from clouds.
Special use airspace
Each national authority designates areas of special use airspace (SUA), primarily for reasons of national security. This is not a separate classification from the ATC-based classes; each piece of SUA is contained in one or more zones of letter-classed airspace.
SUAs range in restrictiveness, from areas where flight is always prohibited except to authorized aircraft, to areas that are not charted but are used by military for potentially hazardous operations (in this case, the onus is on the military personnel to avoid conflict). Refer to the external links for more specific details.
- ^ "SVFR in class A – ATP Forum discussion". http://www.atpforum.co.uk/showthread.php?t=38. Retrieved 2011-03-29. [unreliable source?]
- ^ Airfield Guide Lithuania, 29 SEP 2005, ENR 1.1-1
- ^ The Official Site of the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, March 11, 2010.
- ^ a b c d e Appendix to the Resolution of the Government of The Russian Federation #138 of March 11, 2010. (Russian)
- ^ Order of the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation #199 of September 15, 2010. (Russian)
- ^ http://www.caa.co.uk/docs/64/200890108ATSAirspaceClassificationV3.pdf
- ^ http://www.airspacesafety.com/content/ATSOCAS.asp
- ^ Godwin, Peter (1987–2004). The Air Pilot's Manual: Aviation Law And Meteorology. Cranfield, England: Air Pilot Publishing Ltd.
- ^ FAA Order 7400.9, Subpart E
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