Pilot’s Guide to Class E Airspace

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You’ll spend most of your flight training time in Class E airspace, whether practicing slow flight or stalls in your local practice area, or heading out on a cross-country flight. Class E airspace is often confusing, though, because it’s not clearly depicted on the sectional chart, like the ATC-controlled Class B, C or D. While Class E airspace is considered controlled airspace, you do not need an ATC clearance to fly in it.

Since Class “E” airspace is basically “everywhere”, most of the focus is placed on identifying the ceiling and floor of the airspace. Identifying the ceiling of Class E airspace is easy, since it always ends at 17,999′ MSL, with Class A airspace above (and then starts again at FL600/60,000′ if you’re out joyriding in an SR-71). Class E airspace rarely goes all the way to the surface, and in non-mountainous terrain, the floor of Class E airspace is typically 700 feet or 1,200 feet AGL. But how can you know the difference?

Class E airspace Floor

The answer lies within the faded magenta circle that typically surrounds nontowered airports. In the example above, the floor of Class E is 700′ on the faded side of the border (the airport surface area) and 1,200′ everywhere else. Stay below the floor of Class E airspace and you’ll remain in Class G airspace and take advantage of the less restrictive cloud clearance and visibility minimums.

Class E Airspace

Speaking of weather requirements, here’s a summary of the minimum cloud clearance and visibility required to operate in Class E airspace:

As with all things in aviation, there are many exceptions to the standard conventions. Here are some examples of Class E floor variations found throughout the US.

In this case, Class E extends to the surface, as identified by the dashed magenta line/box appearing adjacent to the Class D airspace:

Dashed magenta line designating class E extension to the surface on an aviation sectional map.

In some cases, the surface area for an airport is designated as Class E airspace, which is identified by the dashed magenta line/circle around the airport:

Class E surface area

Next, let’s review Class E airspace around federal airways. In this example around Victor 120, Class E airspace starts at 1,200′ AGL inside the blue feathered area and extends all the way to the Class A airspace above. The areas outside of the hard edge of the blue line are Class G airspace from the surface to 14,500′ MSL, and then Class E above that:

Class E Enroute Domestic Areas

For additional airspace review, check out our airspace quiz and see how well you know the entire airspace system.  You may also find this video on Class E airspace classification helpful. And for complete training on the entire National Airspace system plus much more, check out Sporty’s Learn To Fly Pilot Training Course.

Chris Clarke
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