Rules of the Air

Rules of the air are important. They exist for the guidance of the wise and the protection of the foolish.

It is important for all pilots to have a basic understanding of the rules of the air. For example, collision avoidance rules as described in detail in the BGA’s ‘Managing Flying Risk‘ publication should be ingrained in all solo pilots. But no pilot can be expected to remember all the detailed rules of the air, so knowing where to look to find the detail if it is needed is also important.

The Basics

Study guides are a great way of both understanding and learning rules of the air.

‘Bronze and Beyond’ is written for glider pilots and is recommended reading for all trainee and more experienced glider pilots. The publication is periodically updated by the experienced gliding instructor author.

‘Air Law Aeronautical Knowledge’ covers all Rules of the Air and other Air Law requirements and is an excellent guide for all recreational pilots for both examination study as well as practical day to day knowledge. As this publication is not written specifically for glider pilots, it doesn’t include a number of specific points applicable to gliding, for example;

  • A glider may fly below 500 feet above the ground or water or closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle or structure if it is hill-soaring
  • A glider and the aircraft which is towing it must be considered to be a single aircraft under the command of the commander of the towing aircraft.
  • Glider flights in controlled airspace must operate under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). Outside controlled airspace, eg in class G airspace, gliders may fly under VFR or IFR. The rules for IFR flying (SERA 5015) include a quadrantal height rule. Since gliders are always climbing or descending, the quadrantal rule is irrelevant to them.
  • Certain notified portions of controlled airspace permit gliding operations without reference to ATC in accordance with specified conditions which must be strictly complied with. These important conditions are usually described in Letters of Agreement (LoA’s) that are reviewed from time to time

More Detail

Standardised European Rules of the Air

The European rules of the air are established by EU regulation and known as SERA – Standardised European Rules of the Air.

SERA rules are based on ICAO recommendations and in particular ICAO Annex 2 (rules of the air). They apply to all airspace users and aircraft operating in the EU.

Glider pilots are expected to be familiar with rules of the air and should have a good knowledge of the elements that apply to their operation, including collision avoidance rules, and airspace classifications.

SERA Appendix 1 contains important information about ground signals and signs. There are elements of  SERA which, while interesting, are not particularly relevant to gliding operations, eg the 8000, 9000, 10000 and 12000 series.

SERA can be viewed on the EASA website. For ease of reference, the SERA publication current in January 2017 is available here as a pdf.

A pdf can be searched by selecting ‘Ctrl f’ and then typing in a word.

Now please read about UK differences…

UK Rules of the Air Differences

The UK has retained a small number of supplementary rules derived from the former Rules of the Air Regulations 2007. These were published on 17 March 2015 as The Rules of the Air Regulations 2015 and took effect on 30 April 2015. They are supported by permissions and general exemptions that preserve legacy operational flexibilities.

A CAA published consolidation of SERA, the ANO, and Rules of the Air Regulations 2015 including differences is available here.