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New Zealand Airspace

Revision: January 10, 2017, at 10:36 AM

Module content

To facilitate safe, orderly use of airspace there are two internationally agreed sets of flight rules (VFR/Visual Flight Rules and IFR/Instrument Flight Rules) to which all airspace users must adhere plus several classes of airspace in which aircraft may operate to take advantage of the implied safety within those airspaces.

Controlled airspace is monitored and most traffic is directed, to varying extents, by ground-based air traffic control [ATC] specialists; and air routes are designated by ground based radio navigation aids. Air Traffic Services [ATS] include a flight information service [FIS] to traffic in the Class G airspace; an alerting service; an air traffic advisory service; and the ATC service within controlled airspace. ATS is provided by the personnel of Airways Corporation of NZ, using the VHF radiocommunications networks.

Uncontrolled airspace is not supervised or controlled- pilots must operate on a see and be seen basis following the Visual Flight Rules.

CAA airspace publications

Two useful CAA documents on airspace are:

1.1 Controlled airspace

Most controlled airspace exists between a lower level, for example 3500 feet amsl and some upper level, for example 9500 feet amsl or FL95 and is designated as a Control Area [CTA].

Controlled airspace surrounding a civil or military aerodrome with a manned Air Traffic Control tower is a Control Zone [CTR] and starts at ground level and is stepped up to the lower limit of the overlying CTA. The steps provide the airspace for the airport approach and departure paths.

Handy hint

  • A Control Area has its lower level up in the air
  • A Control Zone goes all the way to the end of the alphabet (Z) and all the way to ground.

Three of the International Civil Aviation Organisation [ICAO] controlled airspace classes are used in New Zealand; A,C, and D.

Class A airspace is high level en-route airspace, covering most airspace above 9500 AMSL and stepping down where needed to cover main routes and approach/departure sectors. IFR only, radio required, transponder mandatory, clearance required prior to entry.

Class C airspace surrounds major airports starting at ground level (CTRs) and stepped up into mid-level Class C (CTAs) or the high level Class A airspace.

Class D airspace surrounds smaller regional airports with ATS services. The airspace starts at the surface and is stepped up into Class C approach/departure airspace. Mixed IFR/VFR, radio required, usually transponder mandatory, clearance required prior to entry.

Class AClass CClass D
Upper airspaceMajor airports, approach & departure lanesRegional airports, approach and departure lanes
Radio requiredRadio requiredRadio required
Clearance requiredClearance requiredClearance required
Transponder mandatoryTransponder mandatoryATS discretion
IFR/IFR separationIFR/VFR separationIFR/VFR separation
 IFR/VFR traffic informationIFR/VFR traffic information
 5km visibility5km visibility
 2km/500 ft from cloud (CTR)
2km/1000ft (CTA)
2km/500 ft from cloud (CTR)
2km/1000ft (CTA)
Controlled Airspace

Most controlled airspace is designated TM Transponder mandatory. Transponder equipped aircraft should be transmitting on Mode C (altitude) and code 1200 (general aviation). Non-transponder aircraft may be permitted entry at ATC discretion- either by prior arrangement or by advising negative transponder on requesting clearance to enter.

1.2 Class G airspace

All airspace which is not promulgated as class A, C or D is designated Class G and open without restriction for flight at or below the lower level of any airspace above. Some controlled airspace may have a Class G VFR Transit Lane providing a low level lane undercutting that airspace to facilitate transit or operations without reference to ATC.

Class G Airspace
Above 3000 AMSL or 1000 AGLBelow 3000 AMSL or 1000 AGL
5km visibility5km visibility
2km/1000ft from cloudclear of cloud & in sight of surface
below 10,000ft- 250ktsbelow 10,000ft- 250kts

To maintain safe separation at airfields in G airspace pilots are required to exercise 'see and avoid' techniques supplemented by VHF monitoring and broadcasting procedures designed to maintain traffic awareness and to manage circuit priorities, where appropriate, in the vicinity of such airfields.

Some airfields will have a designated frequency (marked on the landing chart) for use by traffic in circuit or transiting in the vicinity, otherwise 119.1 should be used. Some class G airspace and associated airfields will be marked as a Common Frequency Zone (CFZ) with a designated frequency for use in that zone. Some class G airspace and associated airfields will be marked as a Mandatory Broadcast Zone (MBZ) with a designated frequency for use in that zone.

Note that while a radio is not mandatory in class G airspace except for MBZs, they are a valuable safety tool. We recommend that you carry and use a radio where practical- even if it is simply to maintain a listening watch for traffic in your vicinity.

Class G Airspace frequencies
designated frequency else 119.1designated frequencydesignated frequency119.1
standard circuit/transit callson entry and designated intervalsposition and intentionsposition and intentions

1.3 Special Use Airspace

As well as MBZs and CFZs mentioned above, there are a number of other special use airspaces.

Thes extend to varying heights as defined on the VNCs and identified as R, M , D, V, L or P areas. For safety reasons flight into special use airspace may be 'restricted', or some may just be marked 'danger area' as a warning to take extra care.

Restricted areas are mostly military training and weapons firing ranges and extend from a lower level (often the surface) to an upper level. Flight within those areas may be restricted at all times, or may be allowed at times when the restricted area is not activated. ATC will be able to advise if the areas are active especially if that activation is by NOTAM. ATC will generally not be able to issue a clearance to enter. It is up to the pilot in command to comply with the requirements of the controlling authority which will be on the chart or NOTAM. All Restricted areas will have varying levels of entry requirements

Danger areas usually relate to mining or quarrying sites, and to special aviation activities such as fixed training areas or aerobatic areas; it may be prudent to avoid such areas, but there is no restriction on entry. Other special use areas, for example those for hang-gliding or radio-controlled model aircraft flying, are also symbolically marked on aerial charts, as a warning device, but there are no details available in any publication. Similarly mines and quarries marked on charts, but not within a danger area, should only be overflown at a safe height to avoid blasting debris.

Special Use Airspaces
Restricted AreasMilitary Operating AreasDanger AreasVolcanic Hazard ZonesLow Flying ZonesParachute Landing Areas
NZ R...MOA NZ M...NZ D...VHZ NZ V...NZ L...PLA NZ P...
authorisation requiredauthorisation requiredconsider risk before entryVMC by day onlybriefing before entryconsider risk before entry

1.4 Aeronautical Information Publications and Notams


Airways Corp maintain the NZAIP, which is the primary source of airspace and navigation information. You can access the NZIP online here.

The NZAIP is divided into sections

  • GEN
    • National Regulations and Requirements
    • Tables and Codes
    • Services
    • Charges
  • ENR
    • General Rules and Procedures
    • Air Traffic Support Services
    • ATS Routes
    • Radio Navigation Aids
    • Navigation Warnings
  • AD1
    • Aerodrome/Heliports Introduction
    • Aerodrome data
  • Aerodrome Charts
    • Approach, landing, ground, departure and general charts for all registered airfields
  • Air Navigation Register
    • Permanent Airspace
    • Temporary Airspace
    • IFR
    • Right hand circuits

Those section marked in bold are particularly relevant for the microlight pilot, but we recommend you review all sections for your general knowledge. You should know your way around the NZAIP to be competent planning cross-country flight.


Notams, derived from the old term 'Notices to Airmen', are issued by Airways Corp and contain "information or instructions concerning the establishment, condition or change in any aeronautical facility , service, procedure or hazard, the timely knowledge of which is essential to persons concerned with flight operations." Notams current at any time are available from the Internet Flight Information Service (IFIS) which we discuss in the 'route planning' module. You should know how to access weather and NOTAMS from IFIS to be competent planning a cross-country flight.

1.5 VMC and the visual flight rules

The two rule sets mentioned are the Instrument Flight Rules [IFR] and the Visual Flight Rules [VFR].

Aircraft operating under the IFR are navigated by reference to cockpit instruments which process data received from ground stations or satellites; IFR flights may operate in both visual meteorological conditions [VMC] or instrument meteorological conditions [IMC] see below.

VFR flights may only operate in VMC. Most commercial jet operations into or between the major airports would operate only in controlled airspace and under IFR, but turbo-prop and piston engined regional aircraft travelling to or from a smaller city may operate some route sectors in Class G and under VFR. Charter and business aircraft would tend to operate both in controlled airspace under IFR or VFR and in Class G under VFR. Agricultural aircraft would normally be operating in Class G and under VFR. General Aviation training aircraft would tend to operate in and out of a CTR under VFR.

Visual Meteorological Conditions

Microlight and non-instrument rated GA operations may only be conducted in Visual Meteorological Conditions [VMC].The visual meteorological conditions [minima] applicable below 10000 AMSL are:

  • Horizontal visibility- 5km. 'Visibility' means the ability to see and identify prominent objects. The problem of course is that there may not be any prominent identifiable objects when flying over featureless areas and, secondly, few people are adept at judging distance from the cockpit.
  • Horizontal clearance from cloud 2km (but see below)
  • Vertical clearance from cloud 1000 feet (but see below)

If operating (in Class G airspace) at or below 3000 feet AMSL or 1000 feet AGL, an aircraft may operate clear of cloud but in sight of the surface.

Visual Flight Rules

The Visual Flight Rules applicable to ultralight, and most light aircraft, operations are primarily 'see and avoid' other traffic, plus the following specifics:

  • VMC must be maintained during the entire flight (climb, cruise and descent)
  • the flight conducted in daylight hours,
  • the pilot must be able to navigate by reference to the ground

VFR on top

Aircraft cannot be operated on top of cloud which is more extensive than scattered unless it is fitted with serviceable flight and navigation instruments which include an artificial horizon and directional gyro, and the pilot is rated for and current in such flight conditions. Taking all into account it is unwise for an ultralight aircraft to operate above any cloud cover.

VFR cruising levels

When flying VFR outside a Control Zone, the altimeter sub-scale must be set to to the Area QNH and fly at the designated VFR cruising levels. This helps to ensure separation between VFR/IFR traffic, and between aircraft on converging tracks.

  • VFR/IFR separation
    • IFR traffic 1000ft levels (5000,6000,7000, etc)
    • VFR traffic 1000 plus 500ft levels (5500, 6500, 7500, etc)
  • Northbound/Southbound separation
    • 270-090 ODD levels
    • 090-270 EVEN levels

Remember: NOSE- North Odds (plus 500), South Evens (plus 500)

1.6 Microlight Flight Operations

Microlight flight operations are covered largely by CAR Part 61 (General aviation rules) and CAR Part 103 (Microlight specific rules). The main restrictions on microlight flights are:

  • Day VFR only- plan your flights to complete well in advance of Evening Civil Twilight.
  • No flight over congested areas- plan your route away from congested (built-up or public) areas.

1.7 Communication and navigation aids

Civil aviation radio communications are conducted in the aviation VHF communications [COMMS] band, 118.00 to 136.975 MHz, where, at 0.025 MHz steps, there are 760 channels possible.

Commonly used inter-pilot air-to-air communications frequency are 123.45 MHz or 133.375 MHz.

VHF Omni-directional Radio Range [VOR] primary air route, homing and position fixing navigation aids operate in the 112.1 to 117.975 MHz aviation VHF navigation [NAV] band. The Instrument Landing System runway localisers, at larger airports, operate in the 108.00 to 112.00 MHz VHF NAV band. Thus the aviation VHF NAV/COMM band is from 108.00 to 136.975 MHz with some 200 channels [at 0.05 MHz intervals] in the NAV band and 760 in the COMMS band. Some handheld airband COMMS transceivers have a very limited VOR receiver capability, but the full NAV/COMM capability is confined to more expensive panel-mounted transceivers/VOR receivers/VOR indicators coupled to a VOR antenna.

Non-directional aviation radio beacons [NDBs], installed to provide a homing facility for smaller aircraft, transmit in medium wave bands between 190 and 535 kHz, but the companion airborne automatic direction finding receivers [ADFs] can also pick up transmissions in the 520 to 1611 kHz AM broadcast band; depending on the power output of the radio station. The broadcasting frequency, latitude and longitude, power output in kW and the height of the mast agl [quite a few are over 600 feet agl and situated on the high ground] for all AM broadcast stations, is contained in the NZAIP. Note that NDBs are being phased out of service.

1.8 Distress frequencies and SARSAT

When a pilot is experiencing in-flight difficulties it is advisable to inform others as early as practical and to advise whether the pilot considers the situation to be an emergency or something less. The frequency on which a distress call ( a MAYDAY transmission) or an urgency message ( a PAN-PAN transmission) is made should be that which is likely to provide a quick response: for example if other aircraft are known to be using a local airfield frequency use that, otherwise use the area frequency, or failing that 121.5MHz.

All microlights flying more than 10NM must be fitted with a 406MHz ELT or carry a 406MHz PLB. These beacons transmit on both 406MHZ (monitored by COSPAS/SARSAT satellites) and 121.5MHz (monitored by international and search aircraft). Beacons with GPS capability transmit the GPS coordinates to the satellite for a virtually instant and accurate fix. Non-GPS beacons are fixed with somewhat less accuracy over a 30 minute period by low-orbit COSPAS satellites.

On receipt of the distress notification from COSPAS, the New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre first telephones the registered user/s to confirm if this is a genuine emergency activation. If so, rescue action is initiated. The benefit of the 406MHz system is that with the fix information, what would have been a search and rescue scenario becomes a rescue one, with significantly less delay.