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I am a private pilot looking to get into paragliding. After talking to some of my friends who do paragliding in the San Francisco Bay area and watching YouTube videos I noticed some fly through places like VPMIN (which is near SUNOL). That's an extremely busy intersection, sometimes right in the altitude ranges I normally fly through them in my powered aircraft. From this I had a few questions:

  1. Is it possible to get the equivalent of flight following or at least call up ATC to let them know you are there, if you are planning on flying at higher altitudes? I am used to doing this for a D airspace if I am flying only just over or near it if they are not busy.
  2. If so, what would the phrasing of that sound like when you don't have a callsign?
  3. 14 CFR 103.17 says that I require prior authorization to enter class B, C or D airspace. What does this look like? Can I take a handheld radio and ask for permission on the tower frequency? Or is this something I'd need to get through written permission from a FSDO or the tower directly?
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    $\begingroup$ As a paraglider, you can't enter class B (or C I believe). There really shouldn't be any reason you need to talk to ATC as a paraglider in the airspaces and altitudes you'll be operating at. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Nov 22 '18 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ You might want to look at Do lighter-than-air aircraft communicate with ATC? $\endgroup$ – user Nov 23 '18 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a CVn that link was helpful. The one part that stuck out was this: "On the other hand, if they do have a radio (even a hand-held radio) it can greatly add to the safety of flight if they remain in contact with ATC since they can point out traffic that they might not have seen as quickly otherwise." I have always found this to be true in my powered flying and is the root of why I'm interested in doing the same for paragliding $\endgroup$ – Nick Nov 23 '18 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ Rob Beyer: I disagree, take this video for example youtu.be/vjQ6yIOAisQ the pilot here is 5500 ft right in the middle of a busy vfr corridor that is used by people who are traveling north and trying to avoid SFO B and OAK C. He is also right at a vfr cruising altitude. As far as I can tell he's perfectly legal to be there but If I was a plane flying through there I would love atc to be talking to him and so they can call out to me that he exists even if they don't know an exact location $\endgroup$ – Nick Nov 23 '18 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ "As a paraglider, you can't enter class B (or C I believe). "-- yes you can, if you have prior authorization from ATC, as the original asker correctly noted. $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Nov 25 '18 at 13:55
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Where noted, the information in this answer is from Advisory Circular 103-6, which was issued in 1983, but which apparently is not actually obsolete.

Is it possible to get the equivalent of flight following or at least call up ATC to let them know you are there, if you are planning on flying at higher altitudes? I am used to doing this for a D airspace if I am flying only just over or near it if they are not busy.

It's certainly legal to call up ATC while you're flying an ultralight, whether it's Part 103 or not. The relevant FCC regulation, 47 CFR § 87.18(b), says that aircraft are "licensed by rule and [do] not need an individual license," and ultralights are aircraft, so an airband radio on an ultralight counts as being licensed.

Advisory Circular 103-6 also recommends that ultralight pilots contact ATC using the ordinary radio frequencies (but I believe it was written when all airband radio users needed individual licenses).

I don't know whether or not ATC gives flight following to ultralights. Advisory Circular 103-6 says that separation services "will not be available to ultralight pilots." But there's no harm in asking.

If so, what would the phrasing of that sound like when you don't have a callsign?

There's the tricky bit.

The regulation governing this is 47 CFR § 87.107(a), which states that you should identify using one of the following four options: your "aircraft radio station call sign"; the aircraft type and registration number; your radiotelephony designator and flight number; or a temporary identifier for "organized flying activity."

However, if you're flying a Part 103 ultralight, then in all likelihood, you don't have any of those.

Advisory Circular 103-6 states that "ultralight operators should state the word 'ultralight' followed by the call letters assigned by the F.C.C. on your radio license, i.e., 'Ultralight 12593U.'" Assuming you don't have a radio license, it seems like the best you can to is to simply use the word "ultralight" as your call sign.

14 CFR 103.17 says that I require prior authorization to enter class B, C or D airspace. What does this look like? Can I take a handheld radio and ask for permission on the tower frequency? Or is this something I'd need to get through written permission from a FSDO or the tower directly?

Advisory Circular 103-6 says, "Requests for authorization to operate an ultralight vehicle into [controlled airspace] should be made by writing, telephoning, or visiting the air traffic control facility having jurisdiction over the airspace in which you wish to operate. Requests for such authorization via air traffic control radio communication frequencies will normally not be accepted, since it may interfere with the separation of aircraft."

That said, I'm not aware of any special legal meaning of the phrase "prior authorization." So on the off chance that ATC does tell you that you're allowed to enter the airspace, presumably you can do it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot, this is exactly the kind of info I was looking for! $\endgroup$ – Nick Jan 1 at 23:25
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I know of some paragliding sites in the UK that are in Class D. The site rules state that if you expect to get above a certain height you must phone the local ATC who will issue a clearance, usually 'not above xxxx feet'. XC is not allowed from these sites.

Paraglider pilots can also create Notams or use a CANP to notify others that a class G site will be active.

Most of the radios used by paragliders and hangies in the UK are hand-held that don't cover the same bands as GA, and also aren't really usable in the air since your hands are busy with the controls.

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  • $\begingroup$ A "push to talk" button solves the issue of hands being busy. $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Nov 25 '18 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ In the United States, it would technically not be legal to fly an ultralight aircraft (including hang gliders and paragliders) within Class D airspace (and even in some types of Class-E-to-Surface airspace) even 10' off the ground, without getting prior authorization from ATC. $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Nov 25 '18 at 13:58
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This relates to Canada only

I know you’ve asked about paraglider but I shall refer to paramotor first:

  1. You may call the ATC but is the Navcanada that you need to let know. They are able to issue a notam. If you called the ATC you will get redirected to navcanada.
  2. You do have a call sign. All paramotor pilots hold license and registration. Like any regular aircraft. However, unlike any regular aircraft, paramotor pilots do not have a radio. So your call sign can not be used. Funny, isn’t it?
  3. No. You need a flight plan which automatically puts you on the map in the day of the flight.

Now regarding paragliders:

  1. Again, you call navcanada and they will issue a notam if you are allowed to use that particular airspace. While in the air you can not be contacted directly so you have the right of way. If you participate in an xc event, the organizer does the work for you.

  2. You do not have a call sign. You are not authorized to use aviation band.

  3. Prior authorization means you need to obtain the right of way since you can not use radio. You will most likely not be able to obtain authorization. The authority is still navcanada.

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