Paramotors are just about the coolest flying thing to be invented since airplanes in 1903. Back then, there was no such thing as airspace, runways, or Air Traffic Control. Today, people love flying paramotors because of that same freedom that comes with it.
You may have seen those videos on YouTube of people flying on their paramotors and wondered, “Is that legal?”
So, what class air space can paramotors fly in? Paramotors can fly in US Class G and Class E Airspace. Class G Airspace is what is referred to as “completely uncontrolled” airspace. It is the airspace that ranges from ground level to 1,200 feet up. Class E is the layer of airspace above Class G and covers from 1,200 feet above the ground up to 18,000 feet above sea level.
When you launch from the ground, you are launching into Class G airspace. If you want to go higher than 1,200 feet, then you would be entering Class E, which has a few different rules.
Let’s take a closer look at what exactly the different classes entail.
What Are Classes G and E?
Let me give you a quick rundown of what US airspace looks like. We won’t worry about understanding all of the little details, which you should do if you will ever be flying a paramotor, but this will be just a quick overview.
Imagine you have a 3 layer cake. The bottom layer represents Class G (close to the ground), the middle layer represents class E (the United States has no Class F airspace), and the top layer represents Class A.
Class A airspace is everything from 18,000 feet to 60,000 feet above sea level. It has no speed limits. As you can imagine, this area is for big and complicated planes, and pretty much only ever has commercial and military flights and the like.
It is the most controlled. There are licenses and instruments that you need and procedures that you must follow, and paramotors are obviously never ever allowed to fly here.
Class G, as we have mentioned, is closest to the ground and is called “uncontrolled” airspace. It covers everything up to 1,200 feet usually.
Class E is everything from where the Class G airspace ends (usually 1,200 feet) all the way up to 18,000 feet (where Class A begins). It is also less controlled than other
This three-layered airspace doesn’t cover everything, though. If you are still imagining the cake with 3 layers, imagine that these three layers of airspace cover the whole country. Then, imagine little punches or perforations in this cake. This is where classes B, C and D come in to play.
Classes B, C, and D all basically have the same function. Their job is to control airspace around airports. Their job is to get big planes up into Class A and keep all aircraft from colliding so close to the airport.
Imagine Class B, C, or D airspace as a giant upside-down wedding cake. Starting from the ground directly around the airport, this type of airspace starts at different levels, going higher up the farther you get from the airport.
The important thing to understand here is that Class B, C, or D airspaces extend all the way to the ground. This means that the Class G and Class E airspaces that would normally be there have been perforated for the airport’s use.
If you are on the ground close to an airport, you are not in the Class G airspace that would normally be there at the ground. Moving away from the airport, your class G and E airspace would return in “steps”, first to just 700 feet and then higher.
Put in other words, Class G and E is pretty much all of the regular airspace that isn’t being used to direct the traffic around a particular airport. Class B, C, and D are pretty much always off limits to paramotors.
Unless you have authorization from the tower and a radio, there is no legal or safe way to enter these airspaces, and paramotors are almost never flown here.
Since Class G and E Airspace is mostly uncontrolled, that means that you don’t need a lot to go in, at least on a paramotor. All of the rules that apply to bigger aircraft, such as needing a pilot’s license, needing different instruments, and the requirement to be in contact with Air Traffic Control, do not apply here.
What Are The Rules In Class G and E?
|Airspace||Visibility Requirement||Distance From Clouds|
|Class G (Less than 1,200 feet above the ground, no matter the altitude)||1 Mile||Clear of clouds|
|Class G (More than 1,200 feet above the ground but less than 10,000 feet MSL)||1 Mile||500 feet below, 1000 feet above, 200 feet horizontal.|
|Class G (More than 1,200 feet above the ground and at or above 10,000 feet MSL)||5 Miles||1000 feet below, 1000 feet above, 1 mile horizontal.|
|Class E (Below 10,000 feet MSL)||3 Miles||500 feet below, 1000 feet above, 200 feet horizontal.|
|Class E (Above 10,000 feet MSL)||5 Miles||1000 feet below, 1000 feet above, 1 mile horizontal.|
*Data is from the FAA and provided by usppa.org
Class G Rules
Just because Class G Airspace is “Uncontrolled” airspace, that doesn’t mean that it is a “no rules” airspace. You are still required to follow the FAA Rules for Class G Airspace, and also all of the special rules that have been established for the operation of paramotors.
The rules in Class G airspace are the most simple: You must have at least one mile of visibility and stay clear of clouds.
The reason we must stay clear of clouds is for the safety of everyone. Clouds must always be avoided by pilots. The only time you are legally allowed to fly through clouds is if you are flying on Instrument Flight
This is because airplanes flying through clouds obviously present a risk of a
So as an example, if you want to take off from a certain field, first you would need to do a mental check to make sure all of these requirements are met. Are you sure you are in Class G airspace?
If there is no airport nearby, then the answer to this question is probably yes. Do you have a mile of visibility? Is your takeoff path clear of clouds? If you answer yes to all of these questions, then you are good to go.
Class E Rules
Class E is a little more complicated. In Class E airspace there is a lot more action. There are bigger planes and they are going a lot faster. Under 3,000 feet above the ground, planes have a speed limit of 200
Between 3,000 feet above the ground and 10,000 feet, the speed is limited to 250
Since our little paramotors don’t usually ever get going above 50 mph, you can imagine the danger here. A plane moving a lot faster than you could overtake you and not even notice if people aren’t being careful. A collision like this would probably bring down both of you! This is why there are more rules in Class E airspaces than in Class G.
Once you enter Class E airspace (which as a reminder usually begins 1,200 feet above the ground), your visibility requirements are higher. Below 10,000 feet MSL (where you’ll remember that airplanes have a speed limit of 250 knots) you need to have a visibility of at least three miles.
Above 10,000 feet, where airplanes have no speed limits, the visibility requirement is raised to five miles. As you can imagine this is important to maintain so that collisions can be avoided.
The cloud distance requirements are also higher in Class E. Whereas at low altitudes you are only required to stay clear of the clouds, in Class E you are required to stay certain distances from any clouds at all.
Below 10,000 feet, where there is still a speed limit, you are required to stay 500 feet below, 1000 feet above, and 2000 feet to the side of any clouds.
Above 10,000 feet, where there are no speed limits, the requirements are higher. You must stay 1000 feet below, 1000 feet above, and one mile to the side of any clouds.
Now, if you have taken off from the ground and are thinking of moving from Class G into Class E airspace (1,200 feet above the ground), you need to run through another little checklist: Is my visibility three miles or more? Am I 500 feet below, 1000 feet above, and 2000 feet to the side of any clouds? If so, then you are good to proceed to Class E.
You would need to do a similar checklist before going above 10,000 feet, as those minimums are higher.
So when you see those videos on YouTube of people flying their paramotors to McDonald’s and back, and you wonder, “can that be legal?”, the answer is yes, if: 1) They have one mile of visibility under 1,200 feet above the ground and three miles above 1,200 feet, 2) They are flying clear of the clouds, and 3) They are following all the other rules touching on the operation of paramotors, which we will get into in a minute.
Usually, these people are flying in fairly rural areas, since flying a paramotor requires you to have wide open fields for landing and take off and it is not legal to fly over congested areas.
Note: If you are looking at the chart, you might be wondering, when would you be in Class G airspace above 1,200 feet? The answer is, usually you won’t. But there are some cases where Class G extends way above 1,200 feet.
This happens in some very sparsely populated areas of Montana and Alaska. The FAA is trying to make it very clear that the visibility and cloud distance requirements of higher airspace more than 1,200 feet above the ground still apply, even if the Class G airspace has been extended into what would normally be a Class E airspace.
How Can You Know What Airspace You Are In?
Pilots use what are called sectional charts to see the different airspaces around where they want to fly. These are basically pilot maps that chart out the skies, making clear where the airports are, how far and how high their airspaces extend, and the different airways that exist in the sky.
At first, the sectionals might seem kind of funny looking and hard to read. They do not emphasize cities or roads like the normal maps you are used to would. But with practice, you will come to see that they are designed to give the information that is most important to pilots.
Specifically, these sectional charts show airports and their associated airspace. An airport with an air traffic control tower will have a class B, C, or D airspace associated with it. The sectional will explain where the airspace ends and at what altitude.
It is always a good idea to check out what the airspace landscape looks like in your area before flying. Just because you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere doesn’t mean that a big or medium size airport isn’t controlling the airspace above you.
For big jets, the distance between the “middle of nowhere” and landing at a major airport can be minutes.
Long gone are the days when you needed to order paper maps to be able to look at a sectional. Maps of US airspace are now online. One great site is called skyvector.com. This site is great because it gives a really high quality airspace map, as well as any current NOTAMs.
NOTAM stands for Notice To Airmen. These are notices intended for pilots. They are issued for a specific area and give warnings about different weather phenomena, other hazards, closed areas, or basically anything else you should be warned about before flying. Know that paramotors are not allowed to fly anywhere that has a current NOTAM issued for it.
There are also many apps that can get you the sectionals for the area you are looking to fly in. Even the pilots at most big airlines now use their tablets to read the sectional charts instead of getting out a big paper map while they are flying.
When flying, you should have some kind of altimeter – some way to tell what your elevation is. These come in many shapes and sizes. There are some that can be worn like a watch, others are on your phone.
But always have a physical backup, phone batteries die and its good to have a more reliable source.
All of this said, don’t worry about trying to get as close as you can get to the airspace limits or to airport airspaces. Give yourself some distance instead. Paramotoring is a sport that is really meant to be done away from populated areas and congested airspace.
Remember, since we are so self-regulated, you need to decide if something really should be done just because it legally can be done. You really should not be flying anywhere close to an airport. Ever.
The Class E airspace underneath these “
We love not being as heavily regulated as the other types of aviation that are out there. This freedom, however, brings a huge responsibility. The responsibility is on your shoulders to keep the skies safe and paramotors unregulated. To do that, there are some important things you need to learn before flying.
The FAA has left the paramotor industry to be mostly self-regulated. This means that if you follow the rules they have set, then you are not very likely to cause harm to other planes or people on the ground.
These rules include some restrictions on how and when you can fly. For obvious reasons, you cannot fly a paramotor at night. Everything we have said so far does not apply to nighttime flying.
Paramotors are not allowed in any airspace after the end of civil twilight. This means that paramotors can only be flown from 30 minutes before the legal sunrise until 30 minutes after the legal sunset.
Another rule is that while flying a paramotor, you must maintain visual contact with the ground. Even if you have a lot more airspace before you run out of class E, you aren’t allowed to let a cloud get between you and the ground.
If you ever had to drop down in an emergency, it would require you to drop through a layer of clouds, which is dangerous for a paramotor’s momentum and dangerous for its possibility of creating
Also, there are what are called aircraft right-of-way laws. These are like
This means that we will always yield to every single other aircraft in the sky and that no one will yield to us. This also means that if there is ever a collision, it will pretty much be considered the paramotor’s fault.
This would be tragic enough, but could also bring the public’s wrath upon the paramotor community and upset the delicate balance of freedom we have to fly unregulated.
Paramotors are also prohibited from flying over a congested area. This is a gray area and can be interpreted in different ways. What does “congested” really mean? As with so many other aspects of flying a paramotor, you’ll need to make a judgment call.
My advice is to stay away from anything that could be considered congested. Lots of traffic, dense neighborhoods, and anywhere with a general lack of open fields could be pretty easily considered congested.
Also, know that paramotors cannot be flown within 5 miles of an airport. They also cannot be flown in an area that has a NOTAM issued for it. And this bit may or may not ever apply to you, but you might be interested to know that the airspace directly around the President of the United States, wherever he is, is also a no-fly zone.
If the President ever does come to town, a NOTAM will be issued and you would be restricted from flying anyway. In general, it is just a good idea to always check the NOTAMs.
If you are going to fly a paramotor yourself, you really should read the law first, since there are many other little rules you should familiarize yourself with. The full paramotor rules are only a few minutes’ reading time and can be found at usppa.org.
Since paramotorists have been blessed with a gift of self-regulation, this means that probably the biggest rule to follow is this: be wise. You will have to make several judgments about what is safe and what is not, and it your job to fly safely.
The FAA really isn’t out to “get” you, but they will respond to complaints, and of course, they will respond when you are blatantly breaking the airspace visibility and cloud rules.
It is best to just be wise and make really good, safe judgments that won’t give anyone reason to doubt your competence or that you are intent on flying safely.
A Word On Training
Why don’t many of the regular flight rules apply to paramotors? Back in the day (meaning in the 1980s) when the rules governing the operation of paramotors were first released by the FAA, they elaborated a bit on the reasoning behind their decisions.
The FAA specifically stated that the decision to not require licensing for paramotor pilots was acceptable to them because a paramotor being flown according to the stated rules did not pose much of a risk to other aircraft or to innocent people below.
In other words, a paramotor being flown by an inexperienced pilot doesn’t pose a great risk as a normal aircraft would if it were being piloted by an inexperienced pilot.
This means that even though you don’t need to get any training, practice with a professional, or get a license to fly a paramotor, it is just because you are not very likely to harm anyone else.
That does not mean that you will not hurt yourself! It is definitely in your interest to get training and know what you are doing before starting your first flight. To keep yourself and our freedom to fly unregulated safe, you should get some real training and be wise in all of your flight decisions.
Chances are, there is someone near you that could give you some real lessons. This is the fastest way to learn how to navigate the complicated and delicate airspace that we have. It is also the safest.
Learning to fly a paramotor is not hard and with a little bit of training, you can get very capable very quickly. And most importantly, you will be more prepared to make the kinds of wise judgments that are required in the unregulated air of paramotors.
So there is a rundown of how our airspace works. Remember, paramotors are the lowest aircraft on the totem pole. They yield to everyone. At the same time, this low status gives us a ton of freedom.
If you are thinking about flying a paramotor, go take a lesson and see how you like it! Thanks for reading and I always welcome your comments and suggestions.
What are the full laws for paramotors? The full laws regarding paramotors can be found at usppa.org or directly from the FAA. You can also learn them from a local paramotor instructor, class, or mentor.
Can you fly a paramotor anywhere? There are certain restrictions regarding where a paramotor can and can’t be flown. In the United States, however, you really can fly pretty much anywhere. This freedom is one of the major benefits of paramotoring.