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Misinformation and Understanding Class E Airspace

Misinformation and Understanding Class E Airspace

There has been a lot of recent information out on the various discussion forums regarding a UAVs ability to fly in class E airspace. The question is do you need FAA authorization or can you fly in this airspace just as you can in class G?

FAR 107.41 Operation in certain airspace states:

“No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft in Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport unless that person has prior authorization from Air Traffic Control (ATC).”

Many Part 107 test prep sites have posted videos and information specifically on this FAR and some have posted the wrong interpretation of this FAR which is causing confusion.

This most likely stems from them not being FAA pilots or Instructors, and not understanding the actual wording in 107.41. Airplane pilots have come to understand the so-called FAA-speak. As pilots, we have learned to read each word. As rules are written, updated, or amended, it is important to understand the word ‘or’. In the case of 107.41, the wording has been in place since the beginning of 107 and most have just missed or skipped over the ‘or’.

Document from Scott Gardner
Click for Document from Scott Gardner

On January 10th, a reported document from Scott Gardner (left). FAA acting Manager, Emerging Technologies AVJ-115 was posted to try and clarify the misinformation and provide a better understanding of the various Class E airspace requirements.

Gold Seal UAV Ground School, a large Part 107 test prep company that’s been in business for over 10 years, has nailed what most others have missed: specifically the word ‘or’ where the FAR states ‘or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport’. UAV pilots should understand that Part 107 does not make the distinction between controlled and uncontrolled where Airspace Authorizations are concerned. All of Class E is controlled, but only Class E surface areas require Authorizations under Part 107.

Full disclosure, my company UAV Experts operates a very successful UAV Flight School. I am a full-size aircraft pilot and our program that serves many industries offers small classes that are always full.  We provide a lot of hands-on flight time with various aircrafts, complete with extensive classroom time, covering software and extensive airspace overviews where we use and promote the materials from UAV Ground School as examples.  The attached video (found below) shows why we use them, as the UAV Ground School’s full understanding of the Part 107 language has been able to explain this class E issue clearly and more importantly properly to students.

To operate safely, UAV pilots should fully understand the national airspace system. Take a look at the three example images below and remember that Class E starts at either 700 ft and is designated on the sectional by a fussy Magenta line or at 1200 ft which is where class G tops out, “unless” it starts from the Surface. This Class E from the surface is designated by a fully enclosed dashed Magenta line. Class E surface extensions do not require authorization to fly in.

This image shows a fuzzy Magenta circle surrounding (GVL) Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport. Class G is from the Ground up to 700 ft and the Class E which would require authorization starts at 700 Feet. There are some towers inside of this Class E and you would not need the authorization to inspect these towers as long as you were at or below 400 ft above the tower and within 400 ft of the tower even if that altitude was above the 700 ft class E.
This image of (DAN) Danville Regional airport shows the Fuzzy Class E circle indicating class E starting at 700 ft, but if you look at the middle you see the dashed Magenta lines which indicate Class E to the surface. As the circle with the edges jotting out is fully closed you would need FAA authorization to fly inside this Class E surface area.
This image shows what is called Class E surface area extensions for (SGH) Springfield Beckley airport. You can see the Fuzzy Magenta on the right hand and lower side of the image indicating class E starting at 700 Ft but this is in fact a class G airport with the airport airspace being from the ground up to 700 ft where it intersects the class E. What is unique about this airspace is the Dashed Magenta lines do not fully make a circle around the airport so this is called a class E extension. These class E extensions do not require authorization to fly there. You should however exercise extreme caution as these extensions are most likely high traffic areas and are used for full sized aircraft instrument approaches into SGH.

Good Winds, Be Safe, and by all means FLY SAFE!

Written by 

Cliff is the owner and founder of UAV Experts.com, UAVExpertnews.com and AtlantaHobby.com. More than 35 years of senior management experience in wholesale, retail, on-line and manufacturing with a proven record of leadership and success. Cliff consults heavily in the UAV industry and holds FAA private sailplane and single engine license as well as Remote pilot certificates. Previously, Cliff was the digital evangelist at Wolf Camera. A 24-year veteran of Wolf, serving in a number of sales, management and senior management positions as the company grew from 5 to over 700 stores. Cliff served as WolfCamera.coms President, as well as Sr. VP of Internet commerce and new technology development.

4 thoughts on “Misinformation and Understanding Class E Airspace

  1. Ethan Kaminsky

    Every time I call my local tower to ask for permission from ATC, they tell me that they dont give permission and that it is an FAA jurisdiction. I have certain cities that require proof of permission from ATC. What should I do? Also, having trouble really understanding a COA. It seems its 60-90 days to get one and I cant operate with that much lead time. It doesnt seem I qulify for a blanket COA but perhaps im misreading?

    Any guidance on these two items would be helpful and appreciated.

    1. If you want to fly in these airspaces you will need authorization. This has to be done via the FAA site and can take 60-90 days. This is the link to start https://www.faa.gov/uas/request_waiver/

      If you have a 107 you do not need a COA. COAs are best used for public groups like law enforcement.

  2. Scott

    Hi Cliff,
    This is a great write up. I am 107certified, but still struggle to understand exactly how class G/E Helipads fit into the equation. Are they truly supposed to be treated as airports and therefore fall under the five mile rules? Is it only commercial heliports? Or emergency? I feel like just when I am “all clear”, I discover a helipad and have been seeking more clarity. Also, I see you guys do a good bit of flying over Lake Lanier? Do FAA regulations clash at all with Army Corp of engineers? My understanding from a few years back was that the Corp forbade UAVs But did 107 override that?Thanks for all that you do!

    1. Hi Scott, Thanks for the kind words.
      Remember under part 107 there is no 5 mile limit. Instead everything revolves around airspace. The 5 mile thing is for hobby/recreational pilots only.
      For the lake, the COE controls the land, the FAA (working for us) controls the air.
      FlySafe!

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