A question was brought to my attention:

Can we fly OVER Class E Surface area designated for an airport?

These show some examples of where we can and cannot fly regarding Class E surface areas which are depicted with dashed magenta lines. There’s more here.


To refresh, FAR 103.17 states 

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.

Notice the verbiage ONLY says “lateral boundaries” when mentioning the surface area. That makes it pretty clear. Like the “Control Zones” that preceded airspace reclassification in 1993, there is no upper altitude limit, at least for ultralights (and drones as it happens).

It has been proposed that we can fly through the “overlying” airspace which is usually 700′ above ground level (AGL). Besides the language not saying that, from an intent perspective, it makes no sense.

Purpose of the Rule

This type of airspace is used at airports that are busy but not enough for a control tower. The primary intent is to require higher visibility and cloud clearance requirements all the way to the surface unless pilots are operating under instrument flight rules (IFR).

IFR flights descend at about 300′ per mile from the runway and climb at 200′ – 400′ per mile when they execute a missed approach or takeoff so prohibiting ultralights from the part below 700′ AGL but allowing overflight would make little sense.


The preamble to FAR 103 makes it more clear that the goal was to keep ultralight operations away from busier airports. It was called something different back then but included this airspace.

The Answer

So unfortunately: no, we can’t fly over this airspace as an ultralight at any altitude without permission.