Aviation is one of the most strictly regulated industries in the world, with thousands of rules in place to help ensure the safety of staff and commuters. In addition to vehicular requirements, such as airworthiness certificates and manufacturing procedures, there are also numerous protocols in place which relate to the operation of aircraft. For pilots of all experience levels and flying classes, one of the most critical to be familiar with is the airspace classification system. This system helps determine flight rules and accessibility for various regions while also governing aircraft behavior at particular altitudes. While there are unique rules implemented internationally, this blog will focus on the distinguishing characteristics of class A airspace in the United States.
Before examining the unique attributes assigned to class A airspace, it is first necessary to briefly review other classifications. Glass G airspace is considered uncontrolled airspace or regions that do not fall into any other category. This airspace is not directly controlled by air traffic control (ATC), but pilots must still obey visual flight rule minimums. Meanwhile, Class D airspace accounts for the altitude from the airport to 2,500 ft above when measured in mean sea level. Since it is this classification where takeoff and landing take place, guidelines are customized to fit the needs of the particular airport. Class C airspace surrounds airports with a higher volume than class D, and here, the altitude extends up to 4,000 above the surface. Communication with ATC is required for entry into all class C airspace. Finally, class B airspace defines the geographical region around highly trafficked airports, such as LAX or DIA.
Class A governs airspace from 18,000ft to 60,000ft MSL. In terms of restriction, it carries the most out of any of the classifications. Unlike other classes, which have strangely shaped morphologies to remain specific to the region they serve, class A airspace is flat and overarching. In order for an aircraft to enter class A airspace, there are several requirements that the vessel and pilot must meet. First, the aircraft must be equipped with IFR equipment, and the pilot must have IFR certification. Like other classes, the aircraft must also receive clearance from ATC before entering the airspace. The pilot should also initiate and maintain two-way radio communication throughout. Finally, a mode C transponder should be in use, as well as distance measuring equipment with VHF omnidirectional range (VOR).
In addition to entry requirements, class A airspace also maintains several rules for aircraft during their transit. The first is the speed limit, which is set to Mach 1. Although this is not a concern for the vast majority of aircraft, it is still an important requisite to know. Additionally, horizontal separation remains at 3-5 miles, while vertical clearance may fluctuate between 1,000-2,000ft depending on the presence of certified altimeters. Although the IFR rule applies to most aircraft flying in class A airspace, nonconventional vessels such as gliders and sailplanes may operate without IFR as long as they submit a request to the ATC within a reasonable timeframe.
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