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The first paragraph of the FAA PHAK Chapter 14 - Airspace says:

The two categories of airspace are: regulatory and nonregulatory. Within these two categories there are four types: controlled, uncontrolled, special use, and other airspace.

It never says anything further about regulatory and nonregulatory. So what do these terms mean and what are their differences?

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    $\begingroup$ What country/jurisdiction is this for. This answer will vary greatly depending on the context its being asked. (I see the FAA tag so I assume US, is that correct) $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Dec 16, 2015 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ Correct, for the US $\endgroup$
    – jskypilot
    Dec 16, 2015 at 15:28

3 Answers 3

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Regulatory vs Non regulatory has nothing to do with enforcement. What it pertains to is how the airspace is created.

Regulatory airspace must go thru the rule-making process before it can be designated. Each type of regulatory airspace has a corresponding FAR section describing the conditions under which it can be designated and allowable parameters. The FAA must then publish the airspace proposal in the federal register, accept, an evaluate comments before designation of that airspace.

Non regulatory airspace can be designated by the FAA without going through the rule-making process.

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    $\begingroup$ Great answer; could you possibly provide some links or citations to back this up? That would improve the answer even more. $\endgroup$ Jun 18, 2022 at 1:28
  • $\begingroup$ Chapter 3 of FAIR AIM clearly makes the distinction $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 18:59
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Non-regulatory airspace is MOAs, Warning Areas, Alert Areas, and Controlled Firing Areas (source 1), (source 2).

Other information should be located in the AIM Ch 3-4, Special Use Airspace. Specifically 3-4-1(c)

Basically non-regulatory areas mean that the FAA does not make regulatory enforcement in those areas due to special (military) operations. Usually the non-enforcement is only for participating aircraft, and generally recreational/commercial aircraft would not fall under any non-regulatory rules.

For example, in an active MOA with aircraft practicing low-altitude speed runs, the FAA would not enforce the 250 knot speed limit on participating aircraft.

This is in the AIM, Ch 3 Section 4, Part 5(b)

Military pilots flying in an active MOA are exampted from the provisions of 14 CFR Section 91.303(c) and (d) which prohibits aerobatic flight within Class D and E surface areas and within Federal Airways. Additionally the Department of Defense has been issued an authorization to operate aircraft at indicated airspeeds in excess of 250 knots below 10,000 feet MSL within active MOAs..

For another example, consider warning areas, which are areas extending 3 miles from the coast. Since this area may include international waters (think of the area between Alaska and Russia), the FAA can't really regulate operations in all these areas. The US Navy also controls some of these areas and "shares" jurisdiction with the FAA.

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  • $\begingroup$ I believe a TRSA is non-regulatory as well. $\endgroup$
    – RetiredATC
    Jun 18, 2022 at 3:33
  • $\begingroup$ @RetiredATC you are entirely correct, which goes to show how incorrect this answer is. TRSA airspace (nonregulatory/nonrulemaking) is almost completely composed of Class E airspace (regulatory/rulemaking) and of course the FAA may enforce rules there. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Jun 18, 2022 at 13:52
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In the US, the airspace is categorized into regulatory and non-regulatory. According to FAA AIM

  • Regulatory airspace includes Restricted, Prohibited and various classes (Class A, B, C, D, and E) airspace- These are the areas where FAA regulations are in place.

  • Nonregulatory airspace includes MOAs (military operations area), warning areas, alert areas, and controlled firing areas.

The non-regulatory airspace are the regions in airspace where the FAA cannot enforce regulations due to various reasons (legal and practical).

For example, the FAA cannot legally restrict aircraft as it lies outside of U.S. airspace. In case of MOA, VFR aircraft are not restricted, though they are encouraged to remain outside.

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