UAV Tips: What is Airspace?

This week’s UAV tip series will cover the basics of a complex and important subject, airspace. The purpose of the airspace structure is to keep aircraft safe and maintain an orderly flow of traffic. In this tip, we will take a look at different types of airspace in the UK and how RPAS pilots can operate safely within it. The four objectives of the airspace system are:

  • To maintain the highest standards of safety.
  • To maintain an efficient and orderly flow of traffic.
  • To reduce the effect of aviation on the environment.
  • To accommodate the needs of all airspace users.
  • Aeronautical Information Service (AIS)
    Before going into more detail, it’s important to note where we can find details about specific types of airspace and their operational implications. In the UK, this is provided by NATS, via the Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) on their website at www.ais.org.uk. The three main subsections of the AIS are the Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP), Aeronautical Information Circulars (AIC), and Notice to Airman (NOTAM). Below are a few guides to help you learn the publications.

    AIS:
    AIS

    AIP:
    AIP

    AICs:
    AICs

    Flight Information Regions (FIRs)
    Airspace around the globe is divided into functional three-dimensional blocks, the largest of which is known as Flight Information Regions (FIRs). In the UK, airspace is divided into the London FIR and the Scottish FIR.

    FIR

    How is Airspace Classified?
    Generally, airspace falls into one of two categories, controlled and uncontrolled. Controlled airspace is more restrictive and is normally found within the vicinity of busy aerodromes, or at higher levels on the airway system where commercial traffic is. To operate within controlled airspace, you must obtain permission from the appropriate Air Traffic Control (ATC) unit. Uncontrolled airspace is Class G.

    airspace
    *There is currently no Class B or F airspace in the UK.

    airspace 2

    Airspace Hazards

    Danger Areas (D)
    A Danger Area is an area extending up to specified altitude in which activities may take place that pose a hazard to the flight of an aircraft during the times the area is notified as being active. A Danger Area that is indicated with a solid red line on an aeronautical chart is active during published hours; one that is indicated by a broken red line remains inactive unless promulgated with a NOTAM.
    danger areas

    Prohibited Area (P)
    A Prohibited Area extends from ground level up to a specified altitude, within which flight is prohibited. Details of Prohibited Areas can be found in the ENR section of the AIP.
    prohibited area

    Restricted Area (R)
    A Restricted Area is an area of airspace extending to a specified altitude where flight is restricted in accordance with certain specified conditions. Some restricted airspace may only limit operation of certain types of aircraft, so it’s always important to double check. Details of Restricted Areas and specific restrictions can be found in the ENR section of the AIP.
    restricted area

    Operating inside Danger, Prohibited, and Restricted Areas
    If you wish to operate your RPAS within a Prohibited or Restricted Area that flight is not permitted, you must get permission from the controlling authority and you must do so in advance.

    Danger Areas are more complex, as flight is not strictly prohibited. However, you should contact and provide details directly to the controlling authority. Permissions can be obtained through the Airspace Regulation group at the CAA.

    There is much more to learn about airspace and operating an RPAS such as high intensity radio transmission area (HIRTA), the military low flying system, and aerial tactics areas (ATA) just to name a few. Our Unmanned Aircraft Qualification (UAQ) course covers all of this and more in just two days during the ground school. Learn more about the UAQ course here.