At what altitude, if any, may an ultralight overfly the Gallup, New Mexico airport (KGUP) with no prior authorization without violating FAR 103.17?

This is a question about the meaning of

"within the lateral boundaries of the surface area."


FAR 103.17 --

"No person may operate an ultralight vehicle within Class A, Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport unless that person has prior authorization from the ATC facility having jurisdiction over that airspace."

Sectional chart depicting KGUP

Description of the E2 airspace at KGUP-- from page E-116 of the FAA's "Airspace Designations and Reporting Points" document FAA Order 7400.11D--

"ASW NM E2 Gallup, NM Gallup Municipal Airport, NM (lat. 35°30'41"N., long. 108°47'15"W.) Gallup VORTAC (lat. 35°28'34"N., long. 108°52'21"W.)

Within a 4.1-mile radius of Gallup Municipal Airport and within 1.3 miles each side of the 242° radial of the Gallup VORTAC extending from the 4.1-mile radius to 4.9 miles southwest of the airport."

Note that no limitation is given as to the time of day that the E2 airspace is in effect, and therefore it is in effect 24/7. No specific altitude limit is stated in this section, though on page E-1 we read--

  1. General.

Generally, if the airspace is not Class A, Class B, Class C, or Class D, and it is controlled airspace, it is Class E airspace. Class E airspace extends upward from either the surface or a designated altitude to the overlying or adjacent controlled airspace. When designated as a surface area, the airspace will be configured to contain all instrument procedures. Also in this class are Federal airways, airspace beginning at either 700 or 1,200 feet above ground level used to transition to/from the terminal or enroute environment, and enroute domestic and offshore airspace areas designated below 18,000 feet MSL. Class E airspace does not include the airspace 18,000 feet MSL or above.

  • $\begingroup$ I guess this question was also asked in aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/35297/… but only as a single part (part 4) of a complicated multi-part question that was really more foccused on the horizontal extent of where an ultralight may fly. I would suggest that the vertical aspect merits being addressed in a specific question on its own. $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2020 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ This question is not the same as aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/65366/… , because KEGE is an oddball case, involving a possibly defective airspace description, where it is unclear whether or not E2 airspace is supposed to be in effect directly over KEGE at the same times of day that the Class D airspace is in effect. $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2020 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ Highly related-- note the specific reference to FAR 103.17 -- aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/74979/… $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2020 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ An interesting point is that in some of the rule-making documents leading up to the September 1993 "alphabet" airspace re-designation, the FAA proposed allowing ultralights to operate in (or within the lateral boundaries of) the surface-level Class E airspace designated for airports so long as these operations were conducted above a certain altitude which I recall was something like 4000 or 5000' AGL-- which was also the standard ceiling that was being proposed at the time for Class D airspace-- the question or answer might benefit from a more thorough note on this fact. $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2022 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ This is really a better question that gets at the same issues -- aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/74979/… -- this other question shouldn't be deleted as a duplicate because it is broader in scope, while the present question can't be deleted as a duplicate because it has received several answers, one of which has been upvoted. $\endgroup$ Feb 12, 2023 at 19:04

2 Answers 2


You can not fly an ultralight there without prior authorization if I am reading 103.17 correctly. The way that I am reading this, it seems that you may not be in controlled airspace around an airport without prior authorization, period. And, above 18000 is a no-go as well.

The highest concentration of aircraft traffic is at airports, Navaids like VORs, and on airways. You want to steer clear of those unless you are in clear and direct communication with those in charge of the airspace. Gallup has all three.

As far as Class E airspace, the way that 103.17 reads, It makes it sound like you are not allowed to fly in any Class E airspace over an airport without prior authorization. Admittedly, it’s splitting hairs. Everywhere else in 14 CFR, the description of Surface Class E has slightly different verbiage.

103.17 Operations in certain airspace. No person may operate an ultralight vehicle within Class A, Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport unless that person has prior authorization from the ATC facility having jurisdiction over that airspace.

137.43 Operations in controlled airspace designated for an airport.
(b) No person may operate an aircraft in weather conditions below VFR minimums within the lateral boundaries of a Class E airspace area that extends upward from the surface unless authorization for that operation has been obtained from the ATC facility having jurisdiction over that area.

3–2–6 Class E Airspace
1. Surface area designated for an airport where a control tower is not in operation. Class E surface areas extend upward from the surface to a designated altitude, or to the adjacent or overlying controlled airspace. The airspace will be configured to contain all instrument procedures.

  • $\begingroup$ You might want to edit to say "in controlled airspace around an airport with a Class E surface area..." If we were talking about an airport like Flagstaff vfrmap.com/…, you would be fine to be in the Class E that exists above the Class D, above 9500' feet, it seems to me. $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2020 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ Actually that same verbiage is used in several other FARs. I'll list them later in a comment or answer. $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2020 at 16:39

Whether or not it's legit or not for an ultralight (which may or may not be ADS-B Out equipped) to be overflying that airspace without talking to ATC, if you take into account that IFR approaches start from 9500 feet and could be as low as 7500 feet with a missed approach starting with climb to 9500 feet in the airport vicinity, and some planes can do that pretty quick, I'd say you'd want to be at least 10500 feet westbound and 11500 feet eastbound for separation purposes. IFR traffic will be given advisories about you, if you're not talking to ATC then you could be in for a surprise.

IFR plates for KGUP can be found here https://www.airnav.com/airport/KGUP

  • $\begingroup$ Ultralights don't need ADS-B-out or transponders. It is not legal to put ADS-B-out on an unregistered aircraft. $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2020 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ I see suggestions to put one of these in Ultralights with a blank N-Number field. I would like to be aware of all traffic around me when I am flying. uavionix.com/products/ping2020 $\endgroup$
    – CrossRoads
    Feb 11, 2020 at 20:16
  • $\begingroup$ Consider that you also might meet a sailplane legally flying with no transponder. Mark one eyeballs see-and-be-seen is the rule for all traffic, even IFR traffic, outside of IMC conditions, in most airspace below 18000 MSL. $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2020 at 22:53
  • $\begingroup$ Consider also that Part 91, Section 1(e), states that ultralight vehicles are exempt from Part 91 in its entirety. $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2020 at 23:24

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