April 12, 2013
By Dan Namowitz
Want to get a pilot off his high horse? Ask him to tell you about Class E airspace. Not just to change the mood during a hangar session. Nowadays the topic is fair game for instrument proficiency work when you consider that Class E airspace may become anchored to substantially more real estate if the announced closure of 149 contract control towers moves forward on June 15.
But that’s not the only reason. Ubiquitous and a bit weird to contemplate, Class E airspace has caused more than a few primary student pilots to pose this logical question: Why do they call it controlled airspace if you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to be there, and no one throws you out for misbehaving?
The practiced response is that it’s about weather rules, not access rules. Don’t go in there when weather is below prescribed minimums because—this is where the answer gets tricky—there could be an aircraft on an instrument approach (“A what?”) operating under the highly desirable assumption that the airspace is traffic-free.
This idea remains obscure to many among the non-IFR-initiated, so use caution, instrument pilot!
E for eccentric
Excluding altitudinous Class A airspace, Class E airspace is the only controlled airspace that may originate at some level higher than an airport’s surface. Yes, classes B and C usually have “shelves” of airspace with floors above ground level, but always attached to a surface-based stem, not free-floating.
If an airport is situated in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace but has an instrument approach procedure, the familiar keyhole-shaped outlines found on sectional charts show, by form and color of boundaries, where and how low Class E airspace extends around the airport.
At some locations, a Class E swath may adjoin a conventional Class D layout—again, a way of instructing interlopers to keep instrument approach lanes open in less-than-VFR weather.
Sequester or not, some Class C airspace reverts—defaults, if you prefer—to Class E when the tower staff goes go home for the evening.
If there were a gizmo aboard the aircraft to keep track of how much time is flown in various classes of airspace, Class E would run away with it for piston pilots who leave the traffic pattern.
Doubtless, there is an app for that.
A half-ton Dodge truck lines up on the centerline. As the pickup accelerates, the floatplane trailered behind it adds power, lifts off, banks left, and departs: just another floatplane launch by Joe Sprague of Cadillac Aircraft Services in Cadillac, Mich.
The FAA has alerted AOPA to a spike in airspace penetration and violations of the Washington, D.C., Special Flight Rules Area, particularly stemming from operations at Leesburg Executive Airport (JYO) in Leesburg, Va.
Two men had a vision to protect pilots’ access to backcountry airstrips in Montana, but discovered a nationwide need.
VOLUNTEER AT AN AOPA FLY-IN NEAR YOU!
SHARE YOUR PASSION. VOLUNTEER AT AN AOPA FLY-IN. CLICK TO LEARN MORE >>>
VOLUNTEER LOCALLY AT AOPA FLY-IN! CLICK TO LEARN MORE >>>
BE A PART OF THE FLY-IN VOLUNTEER CREW! CLICK TO LEARN MORE >>>