For a greater understanding of the complex National Airspace System the question of “Why” has it developed and why is it there. This will be presented so it is easier to understand and it has some reason rather than some complex FAA puzzle you must memorize.

The simple answer of why there is a complex system of airspace is “to reduce the probability of aircraft from colliding and having mid airs”. It was developed and has evolved to meet these goals:

  • Allow pilots flying under visual flight rules VFR (typically sport and private pilots) away from commercial instrument flight rules IFR pilots (instrument private pilots to commercial airliners).
  • Keep commercial IFR flights from colliding with commercial IFR flights.
  • Keep VFR flights from colliding with other VFR flights.

If you learn airspace thinking that the cloud clearances, equipment, and pilot licences/capabilities increase as you get closer to airports, airspace will be easier to learn. The bigger the airport, the greater the requirements.  It is to protect all of us.

One of the problems VFR pilots face is that many IFR pilots are not looking where they are going. They are flying by instruments and Air Traffic Control (ATC) is providing separation from other aircraft. This works great in Class A airspace (above 18,000 feet), Class B at the “Biggest” airports and Class C airports where there is Radar service. VFR pilots and IFR pilots beware in “controlled” Class E airspace that is “Everywhere”. If you are flying an aircraft without a transponder, ATC can not see you and can not provide separation from IFR traffic.

This is why all pilots flying in Class E “controlled airspace” must keep your eyes outside the cockpit. There are plenty of commercial airliners flying in Class E airspace below 10,000 feet (transponders are required above 10,000 feet).

A great explanation of airspace written by Paul Hamilton for an FAA handbook is at basic airspace. This provides the basics for most pilots learning or reviewing airspace.

Notice in the figures below, that as you get closer to airports, the airspace changes and becomes more stringent.

Basic ground airspace

Basic G (ground) airspace shown in green to represent the earth and E (everywhere) airspace shown in blue to represent the sky.

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G (ground) green airspace as shown on the sectional

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Classic FAA Diagram of Airspace emphasizing the towered the B, C and D airspace.

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Cloud Clearance Chart

Below is the Cloud Clearance Chart. Note that the sport pilot must always have 3 miles of visibility per FAR 61.315 and the new rules out the beginning of 2010 allow the sport pilot to fly up 10,000 feet  above sea level or 2000 feet above ground level whichever is higher.

Note that clear of clouds allows all pilots to fly right next to the clouds, almost touching them keeping minimum visibility of 3 miles plus visual reference with the ground.

Cloud clearance chart