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CFR 14 Part 91.303 states:

Aerobatic flight.

No person may operate an aircraft in aerobatic flight--
(a) Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement;
(b) Over an open air assembly of persons;
(c) Within the lateral boundaries of the surface areas of Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E airspace designated for an airport;
(d) Within 4 nautical miles of the center line of any Federal airway;
(e) Below an altitude of 1,500 feet above the surface; or. (f) When flight visibility is less than 3 statute miles.
For the purposes of this section, aerobatic flight means an intentional maneuver involving an abrupt change in an aircraft's attitude, an abnormal attitude, or abnormal acceleration, not necessary for normal flight.

For the purposes of this question I want to focus on paragraph (c). Assuming we don't have any other specific permission (waiver), may aerobatics be performed above class B, C, D, or E surface airspace?

I know aerobatics may be performed under the outer rings of class B and C airspace.

There also doesn't appear to be anything preventing aerobatics above the outer rings of class B or C airspace.

So the question is focusing on the center core (the surface area) of class B and C as well as the typical cylinder of a class D airspace and whatever shape a class E surface area happens to be.

Paragraph (c) simply states "Within the lateral boundaries of the surface areas" but makes no mention of altitude (other than the 1500' AGL reference in paragraph (e)).

Obviously we are talking about surface areas that go to the ground so clearly you may not fly in or below these surface areas. But may you fly above them as long as you are 1500' AGL?

"within the lateral boundaries of" has no implied altitude restriction. That term, in English, implies surface to outer space. So it would seem that aerobatics may not be performed above a class B, C, D, or E surface area at any altitude.

But you may perform aerobatics above the outer rings of class B and C. So why restrict doing them over the surface area?

Is there an official answer? May I legally do aerobatics above class B, C, D, or E surface airspace?

I have searched and looked at many related topics but none address this specific question. Even the Hucker discussion leaves this unanswered (to me at least) which only clarifies being able to do aerobatics under (no mention of over) the outer rings of class B and C airspace.

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    $\begingroup$ You can with a waiver, even on the airfield itself. A lot of airshows operate this way. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Feb 9 '17 at 19:47
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    $\begingroup$ To me it seems like you answered your own question: "within the lateral boundaries of" has no implied altitude restriction. That term, in English, implies surface to outer space. So it would seem that aerobatics can't be performed above a class B, C, D, or E surface area at any altitude. $\endgroup$ – J. Hougaard Feb 9 '17 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ Sometimes the FARs are ambiguous, but in this case it’s clear. Since, lateral is not defined in 14 CFR §1, the AIM, or the Pilot/Controller Glossary you revert to the dictionary definition. The rule means exactly what it says. You can’t do acrobatics within the lateral boundaries of the airspace. $\endgroup$ – JScarry Feb 9 '17 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ If you want a legal answer, you'll have to get that in an opinion letter from the FAA itself. I don't think there is any precedent set (rule clarifications). This usually starts with contacting your local FSDO directly. Unfortunately we can't give legal advise, nor would it stand up in a court. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Feb 9 '17 at 21:08
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    $\begingroup$ @JonathanWalters I knew that statement would get some pushback. :) What I meant are examples where a group of pilots have been doing aerobatics above airports for years, with full knowledge of relevant authorities, and without any special permission beyond what is in the FARs. I am certainly not looking for one-off examples where a pilot "got away with it". $\endgroup$ – rmaddy Feb 9 '17 at 22:40
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Actually "within the lateral boundaries of the surface areas of any Class D, Class C, or Class B airpace" DOES imply that you are not permitted to do aerobatics over these areas without special permits from the FAA or if there is a designated aerobatic box at that airport and said pilot remains within that airspace. Even if you are not in the actual airspace itself, if you're above it, you're not allowed to fly acro over it.

Now, note the term "surface areas" could imply that you could fly aerobatics above or below Class C or Class B airspace SHELVES, that is a section of Class C or Class B airspace which does not touch the ground, provided you don't enter those areas and and said airspace meets all the other requirements of FAR 91.303.

Also, some elements of the question may be interpreted in a way that would lose sight of the distinction between Class-E-to-surface areas "designated for an airport"-- i.e. actually surrounding the airport whose approaches they protect -- versus Class-E-to-surface "extensions". Or perhaps the questioner was fully cognizant of, and following the example of, the language used in the AIM, as well as in the section headings of FAA Order 7400.11B, "Airspace Designations And Reporting Points". In these places the phrase "Surface Area" is used ONLY to refer to Class-E-to-surface areas that surrounding the airports whose approaches they protect, and not to refer to Class-E-to-surface "extensions". At any rate, the Class-E-to-surface "extensions" do not fall within the meaning of "Within the lateral boundaries of the surface areas of... Class E airspace designated for an airport". One clear way to refer only to those Class-E-to-surface airspaces that actually surround the airport whose approaches they protect, is to include the phrase "designated for an airport". For much more on the meaning of "Within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of... Class E airspace designated for an airport", please see this answer to the question "Which parts of class E airspace can an ultralight (part 103) fly in without prior ATC authorization?", as well as this answer to the question "Does FAR 91.155c apply to class E surface extensions?"

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    $\begingroup$ See Hucker (2006) which states unequivocally that flight above Class B and C shelves is not prohibited. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Feb 9 '17 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ Right. I agree with the implication. That's what I'm trying to answer clearly. Do people practice aerobatics in said airspace without any special permission beyond what's in the FAR and do so without risk of being busted? $\endgroup$ – rmaddy Feb 9 '17 at 21:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Jonathan I assume you are clarifying this answer because I covered that in my question. And my question is not about flying over the shelves since that aspect is clear. Let's not spend time on that. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – rmaddy Feb 9 '17 at 21:34
  • $\begingroup$ @rmaddy Yes. This answer indicates that the author did not fully read your question and is not familiar with Hucker (2006). $\endgroup$ – J Walters Feb 9 '17 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ Can someone provide a working link to Hucker (2006)? $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Oct 10 '18 at 4:49
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Consider the portion of class B, C, D, or E airspace that actually extends all the way to the ground. (Also, in the case of Class E airspace, a strong argument may be made that we should exclude E4 "extensions" that do not actually surround the airport in question.) Over the airspace portions described above, there is a cylinder or column of airspace going all the way to the top of the atmosphere and beyond, within which aerobatics may not be performed (unless you have a special waiver.)

This is the airspace "within the lateral boundaries of the surface areas of Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E airspace designated for an airport." FAR 91.303c probibits aerobatic flight in this airspace.

Aerobatics over or under OR EVEN WITHIN the class B or C "shelf" airspace are fine, as long as you are not within the cylinder or column described above, extending upward indefinitely from the lateral boundaries of the part of the B or C or E2 airspace that is contact with the surface.

For more, see the 2006 Hucker decision - -https://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/agc/practice_areas/regulations/interpretations/data/interps/2006/hucker%20-%20%282006%29%20legal%20interpretation.pdf -- which unfortunately does not explicitly clarify the status of the airspace over the E4 "extensions".

Related questions--

What is the primary reason that the non-towered airports KACV and KTLV have E4 extensions to E2 airspace?

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  • $\begingroup$ Also, obviously, you must satisfy whatever additional communication requirements are imposed by being within the B or C airspace, if that's where you are. $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer May 5 at 22:59

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