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Paragliding Airspace Regulations

Understanding Airspace for Paraglider Pilots
By Jim Macklow

The Federal Aviation Administration, in the interest of public safety, has defined a set of regulations which control access to and the use of the area above ground in which people normally fly. The FARs (Federal Aviation Regulations) cover all flying activities, including general aviation, ultralight vehicles, ballooning, skydiving, and even operations in space. There is a regulation which covers any area someone
might use for air travel.

In order to safely operate a paraglider, a good understanding of the airspace system is required. There are three broad categories of airspace of which we should be aware:

  1. Airspace we cannot enter
    • Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement (FAR 103.15)
    • Over any open air assembly of persons (FAR 103.15)
  2. Airspace we can enter only with prior authorization from the controlling authority
    • Class A, B, C, D controlled airspace (FAR 103.17)
    • Lateral boundaries of Class E airspace designated for an airport (FAR 103.17)
    • Prohibited or restricted areas (FAR 103.19)
    • Areas designated in a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) (FAR 103.20)
  3. Airspace we can enter without prior authorization from any controlling authority
    • Airspace not defined above (Class G and most of Class E)

Paraglider pilots are most interested in the third category, as that is where paragliders fly the most. However, to avoid confusion while reading the FARs, AIM (Aeronautical Information Manual), and charts it is best to learn about airspace, first by determining the airspace in which one's flight will take place, in order to determine whether there are any restrictions/prohibitions in effect.

FAR 103 is not written like many federal regulations. It does not explicitly say where we can fly, it only lists restrictions, allowing us to fly in the remainder. The airspace system is similarly defined, with the end result that Airspace Class G is not really explicitly defined, except as the space left over after all the controlled airspace has been defined.

The FAA defines airspace in the FARs, AIM and charts which are produced by National Aeronautical Charting Office of the FAA. There are online resources for the FARs and AIM:

Understanding the basics (charts, FARs, AIM)

Classes of Airspace

In order to understand where we can and cannot fly, we must have a firm understanding of the different classes of airspace and how to identify them on the charts produced by the FAA. The airspace is defined in several places:

If you wish to determine the exact location (by latitude/longitude) of any airspace, Victor airway, military operating area (etc. etc.), you can look up in FAA Order 7400.9S.

The chart below shows the different classes of airspace. The Class E airspace below 18000' is depicted in light blue. Class G (uncontrolled) is in white. Classes B, C, and D airspace below 18000' are grey. The surface is depicted in brown. Note that the cloud clearance and visibility requirements are different depending on the mean sea level (MSL) altitude, above ground level (AGL) altitude, and the class of airspace. A text version is printed in FAR 103.23.

Click for large version
Click image for larger version

Since most of our flying is done in Class E and G airspace, we should first learn how to determine which airspace a flying site, LZ, or route lies. We need to know whether we are in Class G or E because the flight visibility and cloud clearance requirements differ.

Class G airspace is defined in the FARs as that airspace which is not controlled airspace. Thus, it is imperative to be able to identify airspace by looking at a wide area chart, sectional chart, or terminal air chart.

Identifying Classes of Airspace:

  • Class A: all airspace between 18000' and 60000'. Not identified on charts. (mnemonic: Above everything)
  • Class B: airspace around large regional airports. Identified on charts by thick blue lines. (mnemonic: Big airport)
  • Class C: airspace around large city airports. Identified on charts by thick magenta lines. (mnemonic: City airport)
  • Class D: airspace around small airports. Identified on charts by blue dashed lines. (mnemonic: Dashed line)
  • Class G: uncontrolled airspace. From the ground up to the next overlying airspace (usually E). (mnemonic: near the Ground )
  • Class E: controlled airspace. Floor is 14,500' MSL, and extends up to the next overlying airspace (A, B, C or D). (mnemonic: Everywhere else) Exceptions:
    • Class E floor is 1500' AGL if surface is above 14,500' MSL
    • Class E floor is 1200' AGL (or more) if inside shaded blue line
    • Class E floor is 700' AGL if inside shaded magenta line
    • Broken blue lines differentiate Class E floors when floor is above 700' AGL

South Coast Sectional Map:
Click for large version
Click image for larger version

How to Read a Sectional Map

Find the sectional chart for your area

Santa Barbara Airspace Map in Google Earth

last updated 19 March 2009


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