So you want to fly in France...?

6 July 2014

"Everyone starts out in aviation with a full bag of luck and an empty bag of experience. The trick is to fill the bag of experience before you empty the bag of luck."

What does it take to fly in France?
That's the question I asked myself as I started preparing for the HOP! Tour des Jeunes Pilotes (HTJP). I did some research to find out what the major differences are between flying in France vs the US. For those readers who aren't pilots, I apologize if some of the terminology is a bit foreign. I tried to be as informative as possible, and I even included a few websites at the end that are great resources if you have a desire to learn more about aviation.

-France has 5 types of airspace: A, C, D, E, G (so, basically, no bravo)
-Sometimes, with no obvious reason, the C or D airspace will temporarily become class A. This means that VFR flights won't get a clearance through the airspace. So, check your NOTAMs! (Notices to Airmen)
-Most VFR flying is contained beneath FL115 (yes, flight the US, FL's begin at 18,000' MSL but other countries have different designations for transition levels and altitudes. More on this later.)
-It is forbidden to fly below 500' AGL (above ground level) except during takeoff and landing. Above major cities, this minimum altitude is bumped up to 1600', 3300', or 5000' AGL. 
-It is recommended to fly higher than 1500' AGL to stay out of the way of military jets, who tend to leave their protected training zones. 
-The VFR code to squawk on the transponder is 7000 (as opposed to 1200 here). When you fly into controlled airspace, the controller gives you a new squawk, and you change it back to 7000 upon leaving.
-Prohibited airspace is labeled LF-P on charts, while dangerous and restricted areas are LF-D and LF-R, respectively.

-France has over 400 public airports.
-Although English is the official ICAO language, and all air traffic controllers are required to speak it, pilots talk in French over the radios for improved efficiency and safety, as well as situational awareness. (That's one of the reasons I'm flying with an instructor throughout the HTJP.)
-Radio freq 123.5 is used like a MULTICOM throughout France at untowered airports without a frequency, and 123.45 is used for aircraft-to-aircraft communications (sound familiar?).
-Night VFR requires a special rating. Like flying IFR, you are required to file a flight plan. Also, most airports are unusable at night.
-The French call high elevation airports 'altiports,' which range from 4500' to 8000' and require a mountain rating. Being from Colorado, I am pretty familiar with the dangers of mountain flying for pilots who aren't properly trained. The course for this air rally isn't going into any mountainous terrain FYI.


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