AC 103

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Enforcement Run Amok 

Chapter 8 

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Who Owns The Air

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Washington Airspace  

Shipping Legality 

It's Probably Illegal  

Base Jumping Legality  


Airports & Ultralights  

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Flying Wilderness Areas

Jets & Hang Gliders Sylmar

Probably Not Legal  

PPG & Airports? 

PPG Base Jumping  

2010 Tandem Exemption  

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Is This Legal? Clouds/Vis

Class E Surface Area

2018-02-09 Updated thanks to Bryan Schwartz and "aeroexperiments" on

FAR 103.17 says that we can't fly in the "lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport" without permission like that depicted below. But there's more to it.

Green exposes the boundary between E (higher, more restrictive) and G (near the ground). Dashed magenta lines mean E airspace drops to the surface as depicted above. That's called Class E surface area and indeed we can't fly there. But there are some class E surface areas that we can fly in.


Various FAA documents specify two types of Class E surface area: 1) surface are desgnated for an airport and 2) surface designated as an extension. You can see these differentiated in both the FAA Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) 3-2-6, and the 1500+ page airspace tome FAA Order JO 7400.9 Airspace Designations and Reporting Points which lists every single airport with E surface airspace. Airport surface areas, dubbed "E2", are listed under section 6002, and extensions, sprouting from towered airports, dubbed "E4", are listed under section 6004. Section 6003 lists extensions from B and C airports.

We canNOT fly in airport E surface areas (like the one above or airport 1 or 2 below).

We can fly in the E surface extensions (like airport 3 below). We can even fly in extensions from class B or C airports (dubbed E3).

There may be airports out there that have a complete dashed magenta circle AND magenta extensions, but I haven't found one. If you do, where you can see they're delineated as extensions, then we can fly there. Weird. Arcane.

The ultimate test is to see if the surface area in question is listed in JO 7400.9 as E3 (extensions to B/C airspace) or E4 (extensions to D/E airspace). If so, we can fly there, other factors permitting.


Class E surface area of any type is depicted with magenta dashed lines.

Below are descriptions of the types of Surface area and whether we can fly in the extensions. You can get permission for the airport E surface area by calling the Air Route Traffic Control Center or approach control that's responsible.

Justification For Interpretation

FAR 103.17 doesn't just say "Class E Surface area," it adds "designated for an airport." Both the AIM and JO 7400.9 (that defines each individual airport) list "designated for an airport" and "designated as an extension." That strongly suggests that they didn't mean to exclude us from the airspace but rather just require us to mind its higher visibility and cloud clearance requirements.


If you have a possibly better interpretation of this, please Email me at the Contact address. Do include supporting document references. Thanks!


Above is another example of "the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport". It's defined under JO 7400.9 section 6002 (E2) and we can't fly here without permission.


Galesburg (above) is also "the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport". We know because its geometry is defined under JO 7400.9 section 6002 as E2 airspace including the tabs that look like extensions but are not called extensions, they're part of area's definition. The piece of JO 7400.9 that defines Galesburg's E surface area is shown below (irrelevant other airport info blacked out). We can't fly here without permission.


And lastly...

The primary airport is D airspace where we need permission from the tower. But the extensions are listed as such under JO 7400.9 section 6004. They are E4 and we do NOT need permission to fly in them.



© 2016 Jeff Goin & Tim Kaiser   Remember: If there's air there, it should be flown in!