Ahhh...Airspace Reclassification. In capital letters. The two words ring out with a droll toll that instantly turns eyelids into lead and sets pilots to daydreaming.
But listen up, class: As of this September, the Federal Aviation Administration's new alphabet-soup airspace designation system will be the law of the skies. And if you think you don't need to learn the new system, you'd better start reading back issues of AOPA Pilot for John S. Yodice's advice on dealing with FAA enforcement action.
The folks at the FAA are doing this to us not because they like to make us suffer, but as a part of efforts to establish an international standard for airspace. The FAA has taken a lead role in international efforts to attain some consistency in airspace nomenclature and requirements. The eventual goal is for pilots to be able to fly in any country without having to master a whole new airspace system. The benefit for domestic pilots is that the alphabet system simplifies airspace terminology as we now know it, according to the FAA.
The only bad news here is that airspace with monickers like Class A, B, C, D, E — there is no F, for reasons we'll explain later — and G doesn't exactly lend itself to intuitive interpretation. At least "airport radar service area" gives you some remote idea of what goes on there. But what the heck does "Class C" mean? The good news is that the requirements inside the different chunks of airspace won't be a whole lot different under the new system than they are today.
Okay, so let's say it's October 1993, and Joe Pilot decides to fly VFR from his home field of Skunkport Airpark, 35 nautical miles northwest of Washington, D.C., to First Flight Airport in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. (Joe wants to pay homage to the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk and pick up a nice pair of Bermuda shorts at an Outer Banks shop.) What will he encounter that's different from what we now know as the National Airspace System?
Joe tosses his Styrofoam coffee cup into a wastebasket and peers out the window of the operations office at Skunkport Airpark, deciding the time is right for departure. He dons his aviator sunglasses and leather jacket and strides across the ramp toward his awaiting Cessna.
Joe considered filing IFR for this trip, but with VFR weather enroute, he would only have to file if he planned to go above 18,000 feet, because there is absolutely no VFR in Class A airspace (think of it as "A" for "Absolutely no VFR," just like there used to be "Positively no VFR" in the positive control area. Class A includes all airspace above 18,000 feet msl). Hardly seems worth a climb to the stratosphere to scoot on down to Kitty Hawk, though. Besides, it's such a nice fall morning that Joe decides to go visual, even if his flight path will take him through some of the soupiest alphabet soup in the nation.
After departing Skunkport, Joe contacts Dulles Approach for permission to enter the Class B airspace, formerly the Washington- Baltimore Tri-area TCA. The requirements in Class B are essentially the same as they were in the TCA: ATC clearance, altitude-encoding (Mode C) transponder within 30 nm of the primary airport, two-way radio communications, and a pilot certificate or a student certificate with instructor's endorsement. The only difference is a cloud clearance requirement of clear-of-clouds and 3 miles visibility, instead of the standard controlled airspace requirement in a TCA (500 below, 1,000 above, and 2,000 horizontal). Joe gets permission to enter the Class B airspace (we don't know how this will sound yet — new communications procedures aren't yet final), gets a squawk code, and is well on his way.
Joe gets vectors from air traffic control and, following a hand- off, realizes just in time that he's being vectored, without clearance, into the R-6608A&B Restricted Area (no kidding — it's happened to real-life Joes). Averting near-disaster enforcement-wise, he exits the Class B airspace and continues on his way, taking care to avoid the plethora of restricted areas on his route. He notes to himself that special-use airspace — including prohibited areas, restricted areas, and military operations areas — which is covered under Federal Aviation Regulations Part 93, is unchanged under reclassification.
Soon, Joe's ready for a pit stop, so he dog-legs over to Richmond, Virginia, for some fuel and cheese crackers.
Richmond International Airport sits in the middle of what used to be an ARSA, but the ARSA has turned into Class C airspace under reclassification. The requirements here are the same as they were in an ARSA: two-way radio communications, Mode C (within the ARSA and above it), and at least a student pilot certificate. Joe gets permission to enter the Class C airspace and soon is on the ground at Richmond, where he tops off, stretches, and departs.
Angling down toward First Flight from Richmond permits Joe to evade the Norfolk Class C airspace (formerly an ARSA) and a string of connected Class D airspace segments (formerly airport traffic areas). One note: Overflying Class D is now slightly easier than it was to overfly an ATA, because the top of Class D airspace is 2,500 feet agl, as opposed to 3,000 feet for an ATA. Also, the control zone and ATA are now combined into the single Class D unit, with the uniform standard top of 2,500 feet, as opposed to the separate 14,500 feet msl ceiling for a control zone. Tower communications are required for entry into Class D, even for non- tower airports inside the Class D airspace. The FAA is making every effort to exclude those satellite airports from Class D airspace, however.
The rest of the flight takes place in Class E airspace, which used to be called general controlled airspace, and Joe steers around the Elizabeth City Class D airspace, formerly an ATA with control zone.
After landing on Runway 2 at First Flight, Joe remarks to himself that he has just flown through most new airspace types, with the exception of Class G — uncontrolled airspace — the high-level Class A, and Class F, an international designation for which there is no U.S. equivalent. The most remarkable thing about it is that it was no big deal. With few minor exceptions, it's just like in Dragnet: Only the names have been changed.
A gag headline bandied about for these stories was "Airspace Reclassification: The Nightmare Continues." But as Joe Pilot's hypothetical flight helps to demonstrate, reclass really isn't anything to get too worked up about. If you're conversant in the current airspace system, it won't take much effort to make the conversion. It's easier than going metric, requiring only some rote memorization of the letters replacing current acronyms. And basically, it starts with the most restrictive airspace (Class A) and proceeds on down the line to the least restrictive (Glass G).
Still, recognizing that there will be some culture shock in the pilot community, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation will be there to make sure the transition proceeds as smoothly as possible. The foundation received about $60,000 from the FAA to produce a video on airspace reclassification and has developed pamphlets, posters, and seminars aimed at helping pilots master the new system.
Some 5,000 full-color airspace-reclass posters were sent to FBOs throughout the country. A new pamphlet, Airspace Reclassification, is being included with all orders of Trevor Thom's training manuals from the ASF, and the FAA has 1,200 copies of the video to use in training seminars. Copies of the brochure may be purchased for $1.75 from the ASF, and copies of the Airspace Reclassification video — combined with Special Use Airspace — can be had for $19.95. Call the foundation at 800/638-3101 for more information or to order copies of the brochure or video.
The ASF also has been conducting airspace-reclass seminars across the country, and reclassification is covered in the foundation's flight instructor refresher clinics and other programs. But soon, the ASF plans to make like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope with what foundation staffers jokingly refer to as "the road show." Starting next month, the ASF will undertake an overall airspace education effort that will tour the country. (The schedule's not set yet.) Airspace reclass will be the most important part of the seminar, which also will cover special-use airspace and related topics.
"Relatively few people know airspace," says John Steuernagle, an ASF educator and one of the foundation's point men on airspace reclassification. The "road show" is meant to reverse that trend.
Of reclassification, Steuernagle says, "It's pretty straightforward. If you understand the present airspace, you can understand this. You only have six letters to remember." — WLG