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(This question pertains to the airspace of the United States.)

FAR 91.126 gives some general rules for operating at or near airports in Class G airspace, and FAR 91.127 gives some general rules for operating at or near airports in Class E airspace.

Section (d) of 91.126 and section (c) of 91.127 pertain specifically to operations at airports with operational control towers.

a) This seems to beg the question, are there any operational control towers located in surface-level Class E airspace or in Class G airspace?

b) Were there ever? (Counting from the September 16, 1993 "alphabet" airspace re-organization onward.)

c) If "no" to a and b, then what is a practical example of how a pilot's behavior might be altered by the need to comply with 91.126(d) or 91.127(c)? After all, it appears that generally speaking, it is not possible to get within 4 nautical miles of an airport with an operational control tower, at 2500' AGL or below, without entering Class D (or higher) airspace.

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    $\begingroup$ This answer indicates that LCQ, a towered airport, used to be in Class G airspace. $\endgroup$ – randomhead Apr 13 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ @randomhead -- good find-- and I see that the airspace has now become Class D there. $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Apr 13 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ A 2016 comment under this answer aviation.stackexchange.com/a/29824/34686 references KTME as another example of a towered airport in Class G airspace; it too is Class D now. $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Apr 13 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ Back to LCQ, this question makes it sound like the tower was perhaps newly installed and the chart hadn't been updated—it was actually Class D when the tower was operational. Perhaps. $\endgroup$ – randomhead Apr 13 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ And my discussion with Dean F. under this answer led me to a document describing a temporary ATCT, which would turn the airspace from Class G to Class E. $\endgroup$ – randomhead Apr 13 at 17:38
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There are a handful of towers still in Class E/G airspace. They're rare, but they do exist and are something to watch out for during preflight planning.

As of April 2021, here's the airports I know of:

  • KJYO - Leesburg, VA
  • KPCA - Picacho ARNG, AZ
  • KTNX - Tonopah Test Range, NV (inside restricted airspace)

I wouldn't be surprised if there's others I missed, these aren't really cataloged anywhere.

Many of these do eventually become proper Class D airports once they have proper weather reporting capability. For example, KTRK (Truckee, CA) was an infamous one on the west coast that just got its Class D ring in 2017.

You'll also see temporary towers pop up via NOTAM for special events. These NOTAMs don't change the airspace designation, since changes to airspace need to go through the formal rulemaking process.

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  • $\begingroup$ Since the question references surface-level Class E airspace, you might want to clarify that first sentence refers to "Class G airspace at the surface (with Class E airspace above)"-- if that's what you meant. On the other hand, maybe you did mean Class G airspace or surface-level Class E airspace, though no examples were provided of the latter. $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Apr 19 at 14:29
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At areas where a local increase in traffic density occurs, a temporary tower may be installed. This may be at an uncontrolled airport which may be in class E, or even Class G airspace. By definition, whereas class G is uncontrolled airspace, adding a control tower does require a Notice to Airmen alerting to the change in airspace and the requirement of the control tower at that location. This information will be cited by NOTAM and announced on ATIS and airport advisories.

Temporary towers are typically erected at airshow events, or places where a sudden local increase in traffic has occurred, such as during firefighting operations.

Controllers will be typically FAA controllers, or sometimes retired controllers on a contract basis, or operating with a contractor, in a mobile airport traffic control tower (MATCT). They will be monitoring the common traffic advisory frequency for aircraft that arrive without knowing that a tower is in operation, and in most cases, will quickly advise the arriving aircraft of the tower operation.

It's a pilot (legal) responsibility to become familiar with all aspects of the flight, including checking all NOTAMs. Temporary towers are NOTAM'd prior to going into operation, typically a day or two prior if the advance notice is there, so there's little excuse for blundering into a temporary tower and not knowing its there.

There are towers in Class G airspace, or towers that lack Class D airspace, because the tower or airport lacks the weather reporting capability, which is a requirement for establishing Class D airspace. As the original poster noted in his question, 14 CFR 91.126 covers Class G airspace, and 91.126(d), in the context of Class G airspace, addresses a requirement to establish communication with a control tower prior to 4 nm from the airport.

https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=b7ed8006f4088b8259a4bd7380008c24&mc=true&node=se14.2.91_1126&rgn=div8

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  • $\begingroup$ Good answer; phrase "adding a control tower does require a Notice to Airmen alerting to the change in airspace" seems to imply that the airspace may be temporarily designated as Class D (or surface-level Class E?) in the case of a temporary tower; if so you might want to state that more explicitly. I'm not clear as to whether temporary towers are sometimes, usually, always, rarely, or never accompanied by temporary designation of Class D (or surface-level Class E) airspace-- if rarely or never, might be a way to phrase that w/o mentioning a "change in airspace"-- – $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Apr 15 at 16:30
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Yes, there is a tower in G (with E above), you just can't fly there

Surface-level controlled (alphabet) airspace isn't allowed to overlap special-use (R-area) airspace, as can be noted from the situation at Creech AFB. This means that the tower (Silverbow Tower) at Tonopah Test Range (KTNX) isn't in controlled airspace as the airport is within the bounds of the Nellis Range Complex. Of course, that also means that it doesn't see civil traffic, only USAF "black" operations, JANET flights on behalf of the DoD, and the occasional emergency knockoff from normal Nellis Range operations I'm sure.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I agree with your premise. The intro section of the wiki article on US airspace says that "airspace class" (A/B/C/D/E/G) and "airspace category" (unrestricted, restricted, prohibited) are not mutually exclusive. The airspace designers may have chosen to not allow the Creech Class D to enter R-4806W, but the airspace is still controlled (Class E). No? $\endgroup$ – randomhead Apr 19 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ @randomhead -- you do make a good point in that the presence of SUA doesn't affect the normal E/G split at 1200' AGL, amended the answer to clarify that that isn't affected $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Apr 19 at 22:48

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