When the FAA issues TFRs for spacecraft launches, such as this recent example the restrictions invariably limit their effect up to a certain altitude which never seems to exceed FL180. This is well below the operating altitude of much routine air traffic, so what's going on here?

Rockets must cross altitudes above this level to reach space and a collision with aviation traffic would be disastrous; so how is this risk mitigated if not by having pilots observe a TFR? This is in effect a followup question to "How are spacecraft and aircraft traffic coordinated?" to cover the part of the spacecraft flight after it has left the area covered by a TFR but before it has left the area liable to contain other air traffic.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ TFR : Temporary Flight Restriction ... VFR : Visual Flight Rules ... IFR : Instrument Flight Rules ... NOTAM : Notice to Air Missions, "is a notice containing information essential to personnel concerned with flight operations but not known far enough in advance to be publicized by other means. It states the abnormal status of a component of the National Airspace System ( NAS ) – not the normal status." $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Oct 15, 2022 at 1:46

2 Answers 2


That TFR is mainly for the general aviation flying under VFR. As you are in class A airspace when you fly above FL180 there is a good chance that you have to look out for a different NOTAM.

There is indeed the active NOTAM A2831/22 covering that launch including detailed rerouting information for dispatchers. Just search for ZMA A2831/22 in the FNS NOTAM search (don't forget to change the "Location" pulldown to "Free Text") and see for yourself.

So, in summary, most TFRs are below FL180 as they are issued for:

  1. Temporary Flight Restrictions in the Vicinity of Disaster/Hazard Areas (Section 91.137);
  2. Temporary Flight Restrictions in National Disaster Areas in the State of Hawaii (Section 91.138);
  3. Emergency Air Traffic Rules (Section 91.139);
  4. Flight Restrictions in the Proximity of the Presidential and Other Parties (Section 91.141);
  5. Flight Limitation in the Proximity of Space Flight Operations (Section 91.143);
  6. Management of Aircraft Operations in the Vicinity of Aerial Demonstrations and Major Sporting Events (Section 91.145); and
  7. Special Security Instructions (Section 99.7).

(Source: AC 91-63D)

Those events rarely extend above FL180. When they do extend above FL180, as in this case, a separate NOTAM is usually issued which contains way more information that is normally only interesting for IFR operations.

Imagine you planning a local fun flight along the coast. Do you really want to wrestle with all those IFR NOTAMs during your preflight?

  • $\begingroup$ You're in controlled airspace when you fly below FL180 too... the absolute highest you can go in that area and still be in uncontrolled airspace is 2699' MSL, and that's only if you're 20 miles out to sea. Closer than that, controlled airspace starts a lot lower. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Oct 14, 2022 at 15:06
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @randomhead I guess what Chris meant is class A airspace, so no VFR allowed above FL180. $\endgroup$
    – Bianfable
    Oct 14, 2022 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ I wasn't precise in my answer. I clarified it and changed "controlled airspace" to "class A airspace". My point is that there is no flying VFR above FL180 as @Bianfable correctly assumed. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Oct 14, 2022 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ Why are there separate categories for disaster/hazard areas and disaster/hazard areas in Hawaii, specifically? $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Oct 15, 2022 at 23:23

TFRs are mostly intended for notifying recreational VFR traffic navigating on their own. Above FL180 all aircraft are under positive control, so ATC can keep them clear of the airspace.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .