Aviation Communications - Class G and E Airspace

Class G and E Airspace Communications

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Class E and G airspace is where all pilots can enjoy the greatest freedom in aviation. The difference between the two is that class G is uncontrolled airspace “government free”, while class E is controlled. The control in class E airspace is minimal however, when compared to all other controlled airspace. In reality, the only difference (between E and G) is the cloud clearance, and visibility requirements. (see figure 21) Even though class E airspace is controlled, it is not a requirement that VFR pilots to talk to controllers nor anyone else in this airspace.

One important note about class E and G airspace is that radios are NOT required for VFR flight. Regardless of the lack of a radio requirement in Class E and G airspace, if you have one use it, and use it wisely to keep the traffic that is listening well advised of your location and your intentions.

Class E airspace commonly starts at 700 feet AGL within a 5-mile radius around airports with instrument approach procedures, and at other altitudes overlying class G airspace in more remote areas. This 700-foot circle can be identified by a shaded magenta border around those airports on VFR sectional charts. (see figure 11) In many cases a class E area can be from the surface upwards, and this can be identified by a dashed magenta border, and is most often seen as an extension about the limits of a class D area. Regardless of the altitude where class E airspace begins, it extends upward to 18,000 feet where class A airspace begins. (see figure 1)

In all areas not classified as other types of controlled airspaces, class G airspace begins at the surface and continues upward to the overlying class E airspace at varying altitudes, but the upper limit is 14,500 feet. For more information about the different airspace classes, and the applicable regulations, consult a current FAR/AIM.

Many pilots are of the opinion that class E and G airports are never tower controlled; this is not true. It is not uncommon for temporary towers to be in operation at Class E and G airports for numerous reasons including fire fighting, air shows, major sporting events, or any number of other reasons. Also, some communities have paid for their own ATC towers at their airports, these are what you see designated as Non Federal Control Tower. These Towers are no different than any other controlled airspace with Class D rules in effect when ever the tower is open. Flight Service will always give information regarding temporary towers in NOTAM’s.

The communication procedures for a tower controlled class E or G airport are identical to that of a class D airport, so refer to that section for those procedures. ATIS is not usually available at these airports when temporary towers are installed, but automated weather such as AWOS or ASOS often is.

On VFR sectional charts, permanently controlled airports (which are all class B, C, and D) can be identified by a blue runway layout, and uncontrolled airports will have a magenta runway layout. (see figure 11)

There is a little confusion about all the remote airspace on VFR sectional charts not classified as class B, C, D, or E. All this airspace is class G, and as stated earlier, this airspace extends upward to the overlying class E airspace. In some areas this class G airspace will extend upwards to 1200 feet where class E begins, and in even more remote areas, it will extend upwards to 14,500 feet where class E begins.

There can be much concentrated activities around class E and G airports such as primary flight instruction, instrument training, skydiving, and also if there is a body of water nearby there may be seaplane instruction as well.


From parking after engine start-up, it is advisable to tune the radio to the local Unicom or CTAF frequency (these are the same at class E and G airports), and while you are doing your checklists you should be listening in the back ground to the traffic in the area. This may seem difficult at first, but with practice the radio will not be a hindrance to your checklist activities. You should have a mental priority as to what you are doing, i.e. checklists first, radio activity second. Even if you have to set for a few minutes longer and listen to what is going on at the airport, it is better to have yourself advised before you make an unnecessary call to Unicom, or to the traffic in the area for an advisory. This will save a certain amount of radio congestion because if there is traffic in the area you will already know which runway, and what procedures are in use.

In proper preparation for the flight, you should have already made yourself aware of the weather by using Flight Service, or at the very least, airport winds and weather by listening to the AWOS or ASOS. You should also make certain of the reported winds with your own verification of the local wind indicators. Winds often vary on the surface and can be different at other locations on the airport. You should not just go with the flow by blindly following others; reported winds and weather are not always correct. You should request a runway change if you feel it is best.

“Flagler traffic, current winds are favoring runway two four, how about a change to that runway please.”

You must keep in mind that when possible it is best to use the runway that other pilots are using, but from time to time you will encounter those who prefer to use a runway that is not favored by the winds. This is not wise for those pilots, but some just don’t care. You are not obligated to use that unfavored runway, and you should not jeopardize the safety of your flight just because they are. Caution must be exercised when this takes place, and it certainly will from time to time.

When you are ready for taxi, if you have heard traffic in the area you likely already know the runway in use. If not, taxi for the runway most favored by the winds. Simply announce:

“Flagler traffic, Cessna eight three xray taxing to runway one one.”

Notice you can shorten your call sign to the last three characters (N4683X, is shortened to 83X) when you are in class E and G areas unless there is another aircraft with a similar call sign. This practice is perfectly acceptable, although not required.

It is not necessary to make another call until you are ready to position on the runway, and at that time you should make one of two calls.

“Flagler traffic, Cessna eight three xray departing runway one one, Flagler”, or “Flagler traffic Cessna eight three xray position and hold runway one one, Flagler.”

You would use the later if you were waiting for a departing, or landing aircraft to clear the runway. Note that an extended position and hold at an uncontrolled airport is not recommended because you are blind to traffic on base and final.

If you are going to remain in the traffic pattern at the airport in which you are departing, announce:

“Flagler traffic, Cessna eight three xray departing runway one one, left closed traffic, Flagler.”

At uncontrolled airports the radio call is made to the traffic in the area, so start your call in that way. The call is terminated with the name of the airport at which you are operating, not to the traffic. This is to keep very clear, which airport you are operating at because there are numerous airports on each frequency.

If you will be departing the pattern, remember the safest pattern departures: straight out, a 45% from straight out, or a downwind departure. If you will be departing the pattern in this way, state so as you make your departure call.

“Flagler traffic, Cessna eight three xray departing runway one one, departing the pattern left downwind, Flagler”, or “Flagler traffic, Cessna eight three xray departing runway one one, departing the pattern straight out, Flagler.”

Some poor, but common examples you will hear from student and professional pilots alike:

“Flagler traffic, Cessna eight three xray departing runway one one, Flagler traffic.”

The idea is to terminate the transmission with the name of the airport at which you are operating, so the call should have been:

“Flagler traffic, Cessna eight three xray departing runway one one, Flagler.”

Some other poor examples:

“Opalocka traffic, Citation niner three seven zulu taxing for the active.”

What is the active? This is a common error at Miami’s Opalocka airport prior to the tower opening in the morning (a class D becomes a class E or G when the tower is closed). There are 6 runways at this airport. Many business jets are landing and departing, and the convenient runways are niner left, or two seven right (9L – 27R). These runways are closed by NOTAM, and hence illegal to use from the hours of 9:00 pm to 7:00 am. This makes runways one two, and three zero, (12 – 30) the active runways by default. The problem here is that very few of these pilots heed the NOTAM. When they announce that they are taxing to the active, which active is it, theirs, or the actual legal and favored runway? These pilots are usually referring to the runways that have been closed by NOTAM (the purpose of the closure is noise abatement, and in extreme weather conditions, the runways are open).

“Vandenburg traffic Piper niner three seven zulu taking the active.”

Again what is the active, where are they taking it, and what are they going to do when they are done with it? I wanted to depart also so I hope they bring it back soon, at least if it is the same active I was intending to use.

Are we being nit picky? No, just professional. If you hone your skills here, it will show in the professional arena.


As you approach an uncontrolled airport you should tune to the proper frequency fifteen miles or so from the airport, and listen to the traffic. If AWOS, or ASOS is available, you should get the current winds, sky condition, and altimeter setting first if you know the frequencies. These frequencies can always be found in the AF/D. (see figure 2)

You can save considerable radio congestion just by listening to the activity before you make your initial call. This will give you plenty of time to think about what is going on at the airport, and time to plan your pattern entry.

Your initial radio call should be made 10 miles from the airport. It is easy to remember the initial call-up distances if you think, 10, 20, 30. Class E, G, and D, a 10 mile call; Class C, a 20 mile call; and Class B, a 30 mile call. Keep in mind that these call-up distances are minimums. It never hurts to make an early call, but you can certainly get jammed up and behind the situation if you wait to long.

Your initial call is simply to alert traffic in the area that you are out there, and inbound to the airport. Plan to make your calls when you are10 miles out, 5 miles out, and then during your pattern entry. Remember that in your radio transmissions, it is generally the same principal whether you are talking to other traffic, or a controller; you should clearly state, who you are, where you are, and what you want to do.

“Ocala traffic, Centurion six niner seven zero bravo ten miles northeast landing Ocala”, or “Ocala traffic, Centurion six niner seven zero bravo ten miles northeast inbound Ocala.”

Then your five-mile call:

“Ocala traffic, Centurion six niner seven zero bravo five miles northeast, we will be over-flying the field for a left downwind runway three six Ocala.”

This will give you a mid field entry to the downwind from a northeast position, and when you are in a position that places you opposite a normal entry to the pattern, this is the logical thing to do. Keep in mind that you must cross the field at pattern altitude during this entry. This entry to the pattern is safe barring any unusual activity in the area that you may have learned about by NOTAM while calling flight service, or which may be noted in the AF/D, or found on the appropriate and current VFR sectional chart. (see figures 2, 3 – 5, 11)

The preferred entry to the pattern, rather than entering the downwind from pattern altitude crossing the field, would be to over fly the field at least five hundred feet above pattern altitude continuing outbound for a minimum of 2 miles, and then make a descending teardrop turn back to the forty-five for the downwind (figure 5). This keeps you on the proper side of the pattern for the entry where most other pilots would be looking for you. It is still very important to be at pattern altitude well before you enter the pattern, and of course that is the reason for flying out 2 miles.

Some of the activities that can affect your approach and pattern entry to the airport could be parachuting, crop dusting, banner towing, helicopter operations, extensive flight instruction, and any number of other activities.

It is common for helicopter flight training to be conducted somewhere in the middle of the field apart from the normal flow of fixed wing traffic, and parachuting is commonly conducted somewhere about the field. Also Banner towing is normally done somewhere in the middle of the field so as not to interfere with the normal flow of traffic.

It should be noted that the normal pattern for helicopters is opposite that of fixed wing traffic, and is 500 feet above field elevation. Helicopters will normally approach to the grassy area parallel the runway, or to the taxiway. At tower-controlled airports, helicopters are normally flown directly to and from their destination on the field.

If some of the above operations are in effect it may be wise to make a circle for the normal forty-five-degree entry to the downwind, as you certainly don’t want to over fly the field at any altitude if parachuting is taking place. If it becomes necessary to make this circle, it would be very wise to be aware to which runway IFR operations are being conducted and avoid that flight path. Just because it is a “VFR day” does not mean that IFR flights are not in progress. There may be normal IFR flights to and from the airport you are approaching, as well as practice approaches. You should avoid the outer marker area especially at altitudes between 1500 to 2500 feet AGL. ILS approaches are always conducted in this range, normally at altitudes near 2000 feet AGL. If a VFR aircraft is in this area, an IFR flight may have to cross at a much higher altitude, and then that pilot may have to make a very steep decent to the airport or circle for another attempt.

It is completely pointless and unnecessary to make a large circle to enter the pattern from the northwest (the earlier call example) if there is nothing going on at the airport that will interfere with an airport center field crossing. It is important to remember however, that you must cross the airport and enter the pattern at pattern altitude (figure 4), unless you are going to use the teardrop method (figure 5).

In general, pattern altitude for piston aircraft is airport elevation plus 1,000 feet; however there may be exceptions to this. The standard pattern altitude for turbine aircraft is field elevation plus 1,500 feet, and helicopter pattern altitude is field elevation plus 500 feet. These are recommended patterns (AC 90-66A), and as always it is best to consult the current AF/D for the most up-to-date information, as it may specify other altitudes. In any case, you should be at pattern altitude well before reaching the airport environment, 2 miles is a good distance. It is extremely dangerous to descend in the pattern because you could very likely wind up piggyback of some other unsuspecting aircraft. For more information on traffic patterns and procedures, see FAA advisory circular AC 90-66A.

If there is no traffic in the area you can make a call to Unicom for airport information. This first call will also be a ten-mile call:

“Antigo Unicom, Cessna eight three xray.”

This is not a call to the traffic, and as the person who is going to respond to you is likely also pumping the gas, it is necessary to give plenty of time for a response. As in any initial call, don’t load them up with a lot of information that they were not ready for. Be persistent in your calls though, because if that person is outside pumping gas, he or she may not have heard your call.

“Cessna eight three xray, Antigo Unicom.”

“Good afternoon Antigo, eight three xray ten miles south landing Antigo, airport advisory please.” (see figure 10)

“Good afternoon eight three xray, winds at Antigo calm, local traffic using runway three four, caution extensive crop dusting activity in the vicinity of the airport”

“Thank you Antigo, Cessna eight three xray.”

It is common that crop dusters do not make a lot of use of the radio, if any. This can be frustrating, but they have their hands full with enough activities. They could be anywhere, at anytime, usually flying very low, but always making a lot of steep, climbing and descending turns at high speeds. They are just one of many factors that can affect your approach to any airport.

As you approach the airport, you should be thinking about your entry into the traffic pattern. As you approach Antigo, you reported south of the airport and local traffic is using runway three four, so you are already set up for a straight in to the final. Be aware that it frustrates some pilots in the pattern when a pilot calls a long final approach. It is known that an aircraft on final has right-of-way over other aircraft. The problem here, is that it can cause other aircraft during flight instruction, or even those who made the proper entry into the pattern (a forty-five to the downwind) to extend their downwind. You should let courtesy over ride right-of-way just a little. This is another one of those conditions where it makes absolutely no sense at all to make a large circling maneuver to enter the downwind, but at the same time it is may become necessary to make s-turns to sequence yourself for the airport so that you do not interrupt with out reason, the flow of traffic into the airport that was ahead of you.

Now that you have made your ten-mile call, and you are set up in your intentions to join the airport area traffic; you will want to make another call five miles from the airport and make known your pattern entry intentions, which will in this case be a straight in to the final.

“Antigo traffic, Cessna eight three xray five miles south straight in for runway three four, Antigo.”

You should maintain a vigilant search for other traffic as you continue inbound making your final decent to pattern altitude at Antigo. Again, you should be at pattern altitude well before reaching the airport environment. If it becomes necessary for you to make a three-sixty to avoid traffic already on a base for the runway, state that you are doing so.

“Antigo traffic, Cessna eight three xray three mile final making right three sixty for spacing, runway three four, Antigo.”

Continue your approach to the airport making a call on entry to final (about 1 mile out), and perhaps another when on short final (about ½ mile). After landing clear the runway as soon as possible, and make a call stating that you are clear. Keep in mind that you are clear when you cross the hold short line, and not before. You should also include your taxi intentions in this call.

“Antigo traffic, Cessna eight three xray clear of runway three four, taxing to the ramp, Antigo.”

At many small airports there are no taxiways, or very limited taxiways. In this case it is necessary to back taxi runways, or continue to the end of the runway which would be the case at Antigo (see figure 10). The turn to back taxi a runway can be very dangerous because you are blind to traffic landing and departing behind of you. If you will be back taxiing, state your intentions as early as possible. Keep a vigilant search for other aircraft, and be prepared to vacate the runway if necessary.

“Antigo traffic, Cessna eight three xray will taxi runway three four to the ramp, Antigo.”

At these uncontrolled airports, your position in the pattern should be announced on each turn, if radio congestion permits. The purpose for announcing in the turn is that you have considerably increased visibility during turns. If the radio is congested, omit a crosswind call.

“Collegedale traffic, Cessna three seven papa, turning left downwind, Collegedale.”

“Collegedale traffic, Cessna three seven papa, turning left base, Collegedale.”

“Collegedale traffic, Cessna three seven papa, turning final, Collegedale.” END Jump to Top