Can you paramotor anywhere? Answering this question would entail giving a “Yes” with a “But”. Powered paragliding is a cool sport, if not the coolest air sport that comes with a set of relaxing rules when compared to other forms of air movement. But with this much buzz and freedom that comes, we must follow standard rules put in place for our safety and those of others on air and ground using our initiatives.
Among these rules, we will be getting some understanding of our fly zones as paragliders, how to identify these zones around our fly area, some general noteworthy rules and the specifics associated with flying over a city.
Let’s get to know these but, as we explore our freedom to paramotor anywhere.
Paramotor Airspace Restrictions
The airspace shared with other pilots is classified into layers based on the distance of their heights either from ground level or from each other. It is important that we not only are able to understand these different airspaces but to identify them on the chart produced by the aviation administrations of the country our fly area is situated in.
Most regulations for paramotors only state the restrictions, leaving the rest up to be self-regulated by the pilots. Therefore, it is fairly easy to violate any of these regulations for the inexperienced and those likely to overestimate the freedom associated with the sport.
Going further into the classifications associated with our airspace, there are certain categories of airspaces we should bear in mind. They are:
- Airspaces that require prior authorization from a controlling unit before entry.
These are the airspaces that have been explicitly defined by the aviation regulatory body for different types of pilots. It includes the controlled airspaces (class A, B, C, and D for the US and A, C, D, and E for the UK), the airspace designated for airports, areas designated in a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) and other prohibited areas as defined by the government of the fly area.
- Airspaces that require no authorization before entry.
These are basically the undefined airspaces (class G and some places class E). We could call this the leftover airspace after other defined airspaces.
- Airspaces that are completely restricted.
These areas were initially restricted with no place for adjustment but have currently been revamped with neatly laid down rules guiding it. They involve paramotoring over a city, town, settlement or open-air social gatherings.
Where You Belong: Airspace Classes
We currently have about 5-6 airspace classes (5 for the UK: A, C, D, E, G and 6 for the US: A, B, C, D, E, G), this, of course, depends on how the country’s aviation regulatory body chooses to classify its airspace.
The major is the controlled and uncontrolled airspaces. What makes the difference aside from their names obviously are the following:
- Controlled airspaces have rigid flight rules and air traffic control instructions that have to be adhered to at all times with the exception of emergency situations. The reason for this is that for each of these airspaces, there is a maximum to minimum air traffic acceptable, which would require both the pilots and the Air Traffic Control (ATC) working hand-in-hand to ensure a safe flight for all.
- Controlled airspace pilots must be trained, their aircraft well equipped to the required standard, and clearance obtained from the ATC to fly in any controlled airspace.
- All air motors in the controlled airspaces must operate by either the Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and Visual Flight Rules (IFR) or both, at specific classes.
Here are the classes within both categories of airspaces below:
- Controlled airspaces: Class A is the highest airspace ranging between 18,000 to 60,000ft above sea level and most controlled, is only plied by large planes and jets with clearance from the ATC being guided by only IFR. Other classes B, C, D cover 18,000ft to the ground level around airports, are only taken by smaller crafts and governed by both flight rules with ATC clearance.
- Uncontrolled airspaces: The class G between ground level to 1,200ft and the class E right above G up to 18,000ft are where we belong. Note that these airspaces don’t exist around airports (occupied by classes B, C, D).
Identifying Your Airspace Area
So it’s clear that the classes G and E outside the zones of aerodromes are where we belong. What if you know your airspace but not how to identify it to know when you’re close to the shelf of another airspace, or even paramotoring around a small airport close? This could be disastrous.
Identifying our airspace is important because the flight visibility and cloud clearance requirements differ. An important part of your gadget for paramotoring is having a ‘Sectional chart’. This aviation navigation map gives you all the information you’ll need as a pilot, such as telling identifiable ground features (rivers, dams.), airports and the altitude of the airspaces (B, C, D) around it and your demarcated airspace away from it. The sectional chart is specific for a city, and thanks to tech, it’s available online. It is also important to check the validity of your sectional because it is updated frequently and should not be more than eight weeks old.
When looking at a sectional, the following should be noted to ease your read of the chart:
- The keys that differentiate this airspace, such as
- Solid blue lines (class B)
- Solid magenta lines (Class C)
- Dashed blue lines (Class D)
- Dashed magenta lines (Class E)
- The height and visibility of each airspace, such as
- Class A (unidentified): Between 18,000ft to 60,000ft.
- Class B: Visible around large regional airports.
- Class C: Visible around city airports.
- Class D: Visible around small airports.
- Class G: Unidentified but marked from the ground up to the next shelf (class E)
- Class E: Between 1,200ft AGL to 18,000ft above MSL, but this differs slightly on the map as follows:
- The shaded blue lines and zipper lines that show E are 1,200ft AGL.
- The inside of shaded magenta lines that indicate class E is 700 AGL.
- Other parameters of the chart include the prohibited areas (P), military operation areas (MOA), warning, and of course alerts (NOTAMs).
Other Restrictions Worthy of Note
We can’t throw a party yet just because we feel our airspaces once identified, can be plied with our eyes closed since there are no rules. There are rules of course but just not as controlled as those of the other airspaces that would require us obtaining clearance from the ATC, getting our equipment officially checked and registered and every pilot undergoing a compulsory period of training series to become certified.
However, we do have some major rules we have to adhere to such as the periods of our flight, the visibility rules, NOTAMs and most importantly one adhered to by all, the right-of-way rule.
The ‘When’ Rule
With the understanding that paramotors operate under the Visual Flight Rule (VFR), it is obvious that night flight is not for us. Meaning that 30 minutes after sunset and 30minutes before sunrise are the allowed flight time range for us.
Notice to Airmen is an alert used in informing pilots of any hazard and other activities en route or specific locations around a fly area. During these periods, paramotors are grounded. Information such as the reason for issuance, date and time to be aware of, location, maximum flight height and a call number available on the slip.
Checking for NOTAMs habitually before a flight is important because this helps keep you updated on the frequent changes on the NOTAMs that comes in.
The Visibility Rule
A major rule for paramotors on the class G airspace is to maintain visibility of at least one mile and stay clear of clouds. While in the class E airspace, higher visibility is required at 5 mile and specific distances from each cloud must be maintained (Below 10,000ft a paramotor must be 500ft below a cloud and 1000ft above one and when above 10,000ft a paramotor should be 1000 ft above and below a cloud).
The visibility rule is one that regulates the conditions under which we can operate a paramotor clear enough to enable us to see where it’s headed. For obvious reasons, only IFR pilots are allowed to fly through the clouds, while being guided by their instrument.
The visibility rule states that at all times, paramotors must maintain visual contact with the ground. It would be disastrous if there be any challenge that would require you to make an emergency landing with you having a cloud between you and the ground.
The Right-of-Way Rule
The major aim of this rule is to prevent mid-air collisions. Similar to the right-of-way traffic law on the ground, this rule asserts which aircraft yields to another when two aircraft are head-on at approximately the same altitude. Whenever such a situation occurs, the aircraft with the other on its right will give way for the other.
Though there is a hierarchy for which aircraft yields to the other, paramotors are at the bottom of the rank and must at all times stay clear of the way of other aircraft.
Can You Paramotor Over a City?
Before the revamping of the rule against paramotoring over a city, the answer to this question would have been a “no”. The application of the 500ft and low flying rule has altered this. We can say yes! paragliding over a city is obtainable, but not over a congested area in relation to a city, town or settlement.
So don’t be dazzled to watch paramotors gliding through the airspace above cities on YouTube with aerobatic displays on open fields. These are done under conditions we will be discussing shortly.
The Low Flying Rule
This rule is mostly applicable when flying over a city. Agreed! Low flying gives a buzz that high flying might not give, but it is riskier flying low. This is why we have the 500 ft rule which asserts that except when taking off, hill soaring with a dead engine or even landing, a paramotor must be conscious of not flying below 500ft to objects or persons on the ground.
Another associated rule is that paramotors must not fly over congested areas of a settlement, town or city below 1500ft above the highest fixed structure. The importance of following this rule is that it gives you an altitude high enough for you to glide safely through a clogged-up area landing safely, especially in the event of an emergency landing without causing harm to persons, yourself or damage to property on the ground.
The Congestion Factor
The rule restricting paramotors from flying over any congested area of a settlement or an organized event hosting a large number of persons is quite subjective. It also has been the determining factor behind the strict rule against flying over a city. A congested area is one which in relation to a city is used for industrial, residential or recreational purposes.
The term “congested” is ambiguous, living paramotors with the freedom to apply wisdom garnered from flying experiences in determining if a fly area is congested.
I will agree that it could be tempting to try some moves during a flight, but there are conditions under which this can be done. To practice maneuvers such as wingovers, spirals, and others, it must be done at not lower than 1500ft over an open field and absolutely not over a congested area.
Paramotors are prohibited from flying within 1000m of any open-air event of more than 1000 persons assembled in any event. This also applies to take off or landing within the same distance in an organized event of more than the same number of persons in an event, with the exception of a landing site or an aerodrome. Prior permission must be obtained from the CAA or the event organizers.
For the Inexperienced: Why You Should Consider Training
You have read through so far and feel like you can do this without any training, but have you wondered why no license is required for paramotoring? We could just sum it up in two words – “Risk rate”. It is assumed that paramotoring poses no risk to others even when flown by an inexperienced pilot, but this doesn’t exempt the potential harm that could come to the pilot, killing the freedom of the sport.
Thus getting some training would help you get the needed experience required in making wise decisions in awkward situations.