Denny Cunningham
(Top Gun)
06/26/17 02:48 AM
Re: Class E Airspace Question

Talked to the guy at FAA HQ that originally broached the question (he's actually retired FAA now, working for a contractor). He gave me some more details; here's my understanding of the situation as he explained it to me:

The airport in question is Walla Walla, Washington (KALW), which has a tower, but reverts to Class E when the tower is closed. There is a private strip underneath one of the Class E extensions, and the doctor that owns that strip got gigged by the feds for departing his strip when the tower was closed, but the weather reporting at KALW was showing the field to be IFR. The doc claimed he was VFR; the feds said the doc needed a clearance, either IFR or SVFR, to operate in the Class E under those conditions.

The doc said they were wrong. Upon further review, it appears that the doc was right, although perhaps not for the reasons he thought he was.

Turns out, there are actually six (!) different types of Class E airspace, E1 through E6, depending on what elements were used in determining why Class E protection of the airspace was necessary. The Class E that encircles the Walla Walla airport is E2, which is specifically associated with the airport. I think he said it was based on a 4.3nm radius (with some cutouts), and that the lateral dimensions are the same as the Class D when the tower is open. Of course, that airspace goes to the surface.

However, the Class E EXTENSIONS are not E2, they're E4-- and they do not go to the surface, but begin at a designated altitude above the surface (700 feet, IIRC). They exist not because of the airport, but because of the instrument approach.

Apparently, weather reporting at the airport pertains to the E2 portion, but not the E4 portions. So, reported weather at Walla Walla is not relevant to a pilot operating from the private airstrip located under the E4 extension. As long as he can maintain VFR, he's good. If he can't maintain VFR, an IFR clearance is required-- but SVFR is not an option.

Why? Because according to the 7110.65, "SVFR operations may be authorized for aircraft operating in or transiting a Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E surface area...". The E4 extensions under discussion don't go to the surface, so the controller is prohibited from issuing a SVFR.

BTW, the phone call that prompted my original post came after the folks at HQ asked a FSDO pilot for an opinion, and he told them "If you ask ten different pilots, you'll get ten different answers." They decided to ask a few, and found out he was right. So, they're now developing guidance for both pilots and controllers, on this and similar subjects. They're working with AOPA to find the best way to disseminate the information to the pilot contingent.

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