Sport Pilot Airspace Matrix

Weather Conditions

What weather conditions can a Sport Pilot fly in?

Airspace Elevation Visibility Cloud Proximity
Class A At or above 18,000 ft MSL Sport Pilot not permitted NA NA
Class B All 3 Statue Miles Clear of clouds
Class C All 3 Statue Miles 500 ft below,
1000 ft above
2000 Ft horz
Class D All 3 Statue Miles 500 ft below,
1000 ft above
2000 Ft horz
Class E At or above 10,000 ft MSL Sport Pilot not premitted NA NA
Class E Less than 10,000 ft above MSL 3 Statue Miles 500 ft below,
1000 ft above
2000 Ft horz
Class G At or above 10,000 ft MSL Sport Pilot not permitted NA NA
Class G Above 1200 ft less than 10,000 ft above MSL 3 Statue Miles 500 ft below,
1000 ft above
2000 Ft horz
Class G At or below 1200 ft AGL 3 Statue Miles Clear of clouds

Uncontrolled Airspace

In the early days of aviation, all airspace was uncontrolled, what we today call Class G airspace. Way back when, there were few airplanes, and none had the instruments necessary to fly in clouds. Even at the busiest of airports, traffic density was very low, and the airplanes flew slowly. Although there were no standards for weather conditions that aircraft could fly in, it was generally agreed that if you remained clear of clouds and had at least one-mile visibility, you could see other airplanes and terrain in time to avoid a collision. This was called see and avoid. It formed the basis for VFR flight and remains critical to preventing collisions.

As the aviation population gained experience flying in marginal weather, pilots learned that because vision faded at night and at altitude, better weather conditions were necessary to see and avoid other traffic. This is the reason why higher weather minimums exist at night and at altitude.

Minimum cloud clearance limits and flight visibilities worked well for a time, but the aviation industry was booming, and things were about to change. Except when flying in clouds, the pilot in command is responsible at all times for aircraft separation, even when operating in a radar environment or on an IFR flight plan.

Many pilots do not know that IFR flight without a clearance is permitted in uncontrolled airspace, provided that the pilot is instrument-rated and the aircraft is equipped for instrument flight.

Controlled Airspace

With the advent of inexpensive gyroscopic flight instruments, travel through the clouds became possible. See and avoid was useless in the soup, so procedures to ensure aircraft separation were needed. This led to the creation of air traffic control (ATC) and controlled, or Class E, airspace. The government established a system of airways, each eight-nautical miles wide with base altitudes of 1,200 feet above ground level (agl), and designated the airspace within them as controlled airspace.

The airway system was defined by a network of radio beacons, many of which were located on airports. More stringent weather minimums for VFR operations were established for this controlled airspace to further separate air traffic. In poor weather conditions, pilots and aircraft had to be qualified and equipped for IFR flight, file IFR flight plans, and coordinate their positions with ATC. When weather conditions were good, pilots could still fly on IFR flight plans, if they chose, but were responsible to see and avoid other aircraft.

Some parcels of airspace contained many airways, so in those areas, controlled airspace was established at 1,200 feet agl to coincide with the airways, whether on an airway or not. When VOR airways arrived in the 1950s, they were (and still are) known as "Victor" airways. Figure 1 shows how the airspace looked in those days. Contrary to what many pilots believe, controlled airspace does not mean that all flight within it is controlled. It means that IFR services are available to qualified pilots who choose to use them. Pilots operating under VFR may fly freely in controlled airspace as long as weather conditions meet current regulatory requirements for that airspace.

Air travel continued to expand, and the mixture of fast transport-category aircraft and general aviation aircraft around major airports was thought to be a safety risk. The FAA hastened the development of radar and ATC following a midair collision between a Lockheed Constellation and a Douglas DC-6 over the Grand Canyon in the 1950s. Similarly, the FAA accelerated its plans for more stringent traffic separation and expanded use of controlled airspace after a midair collision between a Boeing 727 and a Cessna 172 in San Diego in 1978.

Prohibited areas are established for security reasons or for national welfare and are identified on aviation charts by a defined area marked with the letter "P," followed by a number. Prohibited areas are permanently " off limits". An example of a prohibited area is the White House or Camp David. Although these areas are charted, it is imperative to check notices to airmen (notams) before you fly. Some prohibited areas such as P-40 (Camp David in Thurmont, MD) may change often.

A pilot flying "GPS-direct" from Frederick, MD to Hagerstown, MD was intercepted by fighter aircraft after penetrating P-40's expanded prohibited area. Pilots must be prepared to divert from normal flight operations to avoid prohibited areas. Check notams, even for local flights.

For more detailed information at the source you can read

Electronic Code of Federal Regulations

Title 14 Aeronautics and Space