There are seven classifications of airspace used and recognized around the world: Class A, B, C, D, E, F and G. These classes were created by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in an effort to standardize the airspace across the world. Unless you’re a pilot, air traffic controller or simply an aviation geek, you may be wondering what airspace is in the first place and what these different classes mean.
The air above the United States and other countries is controlled by that country. In other words, that piece of atmosphere above land is considered a country’s airspace.
Each country can be divided into the seven aforementioned classes (although it doesn’t need to use all seven classes). Each class has a set of rules and regulations for pilots and air traffic control governing how an aircraft should be flown and operated within that airspace. The goal behind these rules is to allow a country to better control the flow of airplanes within their airspace for safety and security reasons.
Controlled Airspace Versus Uncontrolled Airspace
These seven classes fall into two main categories:
- Controlled airspace
- Uncontrolled airspace
Controlled airspace is an area of airspace where air traffic control (ATC) has authority to ensure the safe and orderly flow of air traffic. This includes giving instructions for takeoff, landing, altitude and route changes. Controlled airspace includes areas around airports, military training routes and other areas where aircraft operations are heavily regulated.
As you can guess, uncontrolled airspace is the opposite of controlled airspace. Uncontrolled airspace is an area where air traffic control services are limited, meaning ATC only provide advisory or information services, such as weather updates to pilots upon request.
Pilots in uncontrolled airspace must communicate with other aircraft on a common radio frequency and follow the rules of visual flight. This type of airspace is typically found in rural areas and at smaller airports.
Classes A to E are within controlled airspace, while classes F and G are within uncontrolled airspace.
Controlled Airspace Classes
For this class of airspace only instrument flight rule (IFR) flights are allowed. An IFR flight is one in which the pilot is navigating and controlling the aircraft using instruments and navigation aids rather than visual references.
These flights must be cleared by air traffic control before they can enter class A airspace. AFC must also ensure all planes within this airspace are kept at a safe distance from one another.
In this class of airspace both IFR and VFR flights are allowed on condition that they’ve been given clearance from air traffic control.
VFR stands for visual flight rules. VFR flights are conducted under visual flight rules, meaning the pilot is navigating by visually observing landmarks and other aircraft in the area. VFR flights don’t require the use of instrumentation or navigation aids, and they must be conducted in good weather conditions with good visibility.
In class C, both IFR and VFR flights allowed but there’s a caveat. ATC provides separation instructions to keep IFR flights away from other IFR flights as well as VFR flights. They do the same for VFR flights—provide separation instructions to keep them away from IFR flights.
What ATC won’t do is separate VFR flights from other VFR flights—pilots of these flights must maintain separation themselves.
In class D, ATC provides separation instructions to keep IFR flights away from both IFR and VFR flights. However, VFR flights don’t receive any separation instructions and must maintain separation from all aircrafts (both IFR and VFR) themselves.
Here, both IRF and VFR flights are allowed; however, VFR flights don’t require clearance from ATC to fly into class E airspace.
ATC provides separation instructions to keep IFR flights away from other IFR flights only, meaning pilots of IFR and VFR flights must maintain separation from VFR flights themselves.
Uncontrolled Airspace Classes
In this class, regulations are a lot more relaxed. Both IFR and VFR flights are allowed to take off without prior clearance from ATC.
IFR flights may be able to receive a separation service if it’s available and all flights can request information services about the weather and air traffic; however, these services are at the ATC’s discretion.
Both IFR and VFR flights are allowed to take off without prior clearance from ATC, but no separation services are available. Only information or traffic advisory services are allowed but may not always be available.
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