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I'm a paramotor pilot operating under FAR 103, and I'm trying to determine who I need to ask for permission to fly in class E airspace that extends to the surface and is designated for an airport. For reference, the particular airport that I am inquiring about is GFL.

This appears to be the relevant subpart of FAR 103: §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.

Before I was aware of this restriction, the airport manager granted permission for me to fly to and from the airport with my paramotor. I have an access card, and he made clear the rules I am to follow, such as radio procedures and where I can launch and land.

However, this field does not have a control tower. Do I need to obtain permission from someone else to comply with §103.17? I'm not sure who the ATC facility having jurisdiction over that airspace is.

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By default, all controlled airspace (class E and up) is owned by an ARTCC. In many areas, they delegate airspace (including class E!) to other ATC facilities, either a TRACON or a Tower.

Unfortunately, that info isn't on Sectional or Terminal Charts; you have to look in the Chart Supplement (formerly Airport/Facility Directory). For KGFL, we see:

ARTCC: BOSTON CENTER

...

ALBANY APPROACH: 132.825

ALBANY DEPARTURE: 132.825

So, this area is owned by Boston ARTCC and delegated to Albany TRACON, and it helpfully gives you the latter's frequency to call if airborne.

You probably can't reach them by radio from the ground, so you would contact their Clearance Delivery (CD) by phone, which for this airport is found in the remarks:

FOR CD CTC ALBANY APCH AT 518-862-2299.

Just tell them in plain English why you're calling and what you want, and be ready to copy any instructions they give you. They might, for instance, ask you to wait because they have other traffic going in or out in the next few minutes, or they might ask you to contact them in the air so they can keep track of you (I assume they won't see you on radar) and warn other aircraft you're there. Or they might not care at all and just tell you to have a good flight.

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Be sure to verify that the airport in question specifically has a "Class E Surface Area". This will be denoted by a dashed line encircling the airport on the sectional map - like a Class D in magenta instead of blue. Typical Class E airports will only be surrounded by a magenta gradient designating transition area and the Class E airspace only extends down to 700 ft above ground level, even over the airport. You don't need authorization to operate your ultralight at an airport where the Class E airspace doesn't extend down to the surface, even if you climb up into the Class E airspace.

If your airport does incorporate a Class E Surface Area, it will nearly always fall inside the magenta gradient circle, mimicking the inverted layer cake design of Class C and B airports. This is done to protect E airports with precision IFR approaches and/or departures.

All airports with a Class E Surface Area are required to have a weather station and the ability to contact ATC from the ground. This ATC may be Flight Service, a center facility, or an approach/departure facility.

Most of the content above (including the direct quote) is based on content in this 2016 article by Swayne Martin, found on the "Boldmethod" website: "The logic behind class E airspace".

Whichever ATC is responsible for providing clearances on your particular airfield will be listed in your Chart Supplement US (formerly called an Airport/Facility Directory or AFD). The frequency for this facility will be listed, and it is this controller that you must contact to request clearance for your FAR 103 flight.

Hope this helps.

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    $\begingroup$ Please note that I'm 100% certain that the airport in question is within class E airspace that extends to the surface and is designated to said airport, and I believe the question is asked in such a manner that makes this apparent. This answer seems to ignore the actual question, and instead answer a question something like "how do I determine whether an airport is within surface class E airspace?". $\endgroup$
    – sndsgd
    Jul 7, 2020 at 21:23
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    $\begingroup$ I did not mean to insinuate that you, personally, don't know the status of KGFL. I thought that there might be other FAR 103 flyers who could stumble across your post looking for clarification and answers. In that case, providing a bit of additional information could help them decide what they need to do. $\endgroup$ Jul 7, 2020 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ Edited to make clear what portion of the answer was conveying or quoting content from the Boldmethod article and what portion was not. A previous edit (not by the OP) made it look like the whole answer was directly quoting the article, which wasn't the case-- the article doesn't mention Part 103 operations at all. $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2023 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think that "typical Class E airport" is really the right phrase to describe an airport with Class E airspace overlying at 700' AGL (and the Boldmethod article never used that phrase), so there may be room for some further improvement here-- $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2023 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ -- but don't wish to change OP's wording too much, as he seems to be no longer around to approve/ roll back edits -- $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2023 at 17:27
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This isn't a complete answer, but the practical answer is that you may not need to contact anyone.

I'm aware of an airport, within the surface-level Class E airspace designated for another airport, where ultralight operations are routinely conducted-- in fact an ultralight airplane manufacturer was long based there. As far as I know, no arrangement for prior authorization has ever existed. Paramotors also routinely launch from nearby fields within the same airspace. This site is on the outskirts of a major city that has a FSDO. An FAA Examiner routinely gives checkrides at this site, and no one I've spoken with (including the Examiner) was aware that there was any requirement for prior authorization for Part 103 operations here. (However, it may help that the field is not the same one for which the surface-level Class E airspace is designated-- rather, it is several miles distant, and is much smaller, with a much lower frequency of operations.)

So yes, you definitely do need to obtain authorization if you want to fully comply with 103.17, but if things are working for you as is, I wouldn't worry about it, especially for low-level operations.

If you do want to seek permission, it seems perhaps that some sort of standing Letter of Agreement permitting low-level operations under certain specified circumstances might work better for you than trying to telephone the ATC facility on a case-by-case basis.

While your specific question makes it clear that you want to take off and land within the airspace in question, and apparently on the grounds of the actual airport for which the airspace is designated, at least one answer has suggested that calling the ATC facility on the radio in flight might be an option in some circumstances where an ultralight pilot wishes to enter Class E airspace that extends down to the surface. I'd suggest that pilots not do that unless the facility has already specifically instructed them to do so. The staff may have no idea that FAR 103.17 even exists, and might have trouble understanding exactly why they are being called. Furthermore, they might not have a clear understanding of the vertical extent of the airspace1 in which FAR 103.17 says ultralights can't operate without prior authorization. The situation seems ripe for confusion.

Footnotes:

  1. For more, see the related ASE question In reference to airspace, what does the FAA mean by "within the lateral boundaries of"? Is this construed to also imply a vertical limit?
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  • $\begingroup$ Would be interested to hear from anyone who has taken the approach suggested in second-to-last paragraph, or who has gotten good results by calling ATC on the radio in flight-- please post an answer, or ping me via "@...." in comment or chat post and we'll discuss further in chat- $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2023 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ While I've never contacted ATC in flight, I have been granted authorization by calling ATC prior to taking off. $\endgroup$
    – sndsgd
    Feb 15, 2023 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ There was some follow-up chat in a related chat room, starting here chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/62996132#62996132 $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2023 at 18:13

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