Flight level

A Flight Level (FL) is a standard nominal altitude of an aircraft, in hundreds of feet. This altitude is calculated from a world-wide fixed pressure datum of 1013.25 hPa (29.921 inHg), the average sea-level pressure, and therefore is not necessarily the same as the aircraft's true altitude either above mean sea level or above ground level.

Background

Historically, altitude has been measured using a pressure altimeter, which is essentially a calibrated barometer. An altimeter measures air pressure, which decreases with increasing altitude, and from the pressure calculates and displays the corresponding altitude. To display altitude above sea level, a pilot must recalibrate the altimeter according to the local air pressure at sea level, to take into account natural variation of pressure over time and in different regions. If this is not done, two aircraft could be flying at the same altitude even though their altimeters appear to show that they are at considerably different altitudes. This is a critical safety issue.

Flight levels solve this problem by defining altitudes based on a standard pressure. All aircraft operating on flight levels calibrate to this setting regardless of the actual sea level pressure. Flight levels are described by a number, which is this nominal altitude ("pressure altitude") in feet, divided by 100. Therefore an apparent altitude of, for example, 32,000 feet is referred to as "flight level 320". To avoid collisions between two aircraft due to their being at the same altitude, their 'real' altitudes (compared to ground level, for example) are not important; it is the difference in altitudes that determines whether they might collide. This difference can be determined from the air pressure at each craft, and does not require knowledge of the local air pressure on the ground.

Flight levels are usually designated in writing as "FLxxx," where "xxx" is a one- to three-digit number indicating the pressure altitude in units of 100 feet. In radio communications, FL290 would be pronounced as "flight level two niner zero", in most jurisdictions. The phrase "flight level" makes it clear that this refers to the standardized pressure altitude.

Transition altitude

At low altitudes the true height of an aircraft relative to an object on the ground needs to be known. For this reason, the transition altitude (TA) is defined. When operating at or below the TA, aircraft altimeters are set to show the altitude above sea level. The pressure setting to achieve this is called QNH or "altimeter setting" and is available from various sources, including air traffic control and the local METAR-issuing station.

The lowest usable flight level above the TA is called the transition level (TL). Because the transition altitude is fixed and the atmospheric pressure varies, the TL varies from time to time. It is therefore possible to have a valid flight level of 30 in the UK when the atmospheric pressure is above 1013.25 hPa. Note that vertical separation is not guaranteed between an aircraft flying at the transition altitude and one flying at the transitional level. For example, in the UK with a transition altitude of 3,000 ft and a QNH of 996, the Transition Level is FL35; equivalent to an altitude of less than 3,100 ft. (See [http://www.caa.co.uk/docs/33/CAP493Part1.pdf Manual of Air Traffic Services Part 1 Appendix A] )

Flights above transition altitude being directed by air traffic control are generally assigned flight levels. The vertical region extending from the TA to the TL is known as the transition layer.

Quadrantal rule

"(This rule applies to IFR flights in the UK outside controlled airspace and is advised for VFR flights above 3,000 ft AMSL outside controlled airspace; few other countries adopt this rule)" Flight levels are 500 ft apart, but to further ensure the separation of aircraft, aircraft travelling in different directions in level flight (i.e. not climbing or descending) below FL 245 (24,500 ft) are required to adopt flight levels according to the "quadrantal rule", as follows:

* Magnetic Track 000 to 089° - odd thousands of feet (FL 70, 90, 110 etc)
* Magnetic Track 090 to 179° - odd thousands + 500 ft (FL 75, 95, 115 etc)
* Magnetic Track 180 to 269° - even thousands of feet (FL 80, 100, 120 etc)
* Magnetic Track 270 to 359° - even thousands + 500 ft (FL 85, 105, 125 etc)

emicircular/Hemispheric rule

"((Versions of this apply to IFR in the UK inside controlled airspace and generally in the rest of the world))",

The "semicircular rule (also known as the hemispheric rule)" applies, in slightly different version, in all of the world, including in the UK inside controlled airspace.

The standard rule define an East/West track split:

* Eastbound - Magnetic Track 000 to 179° - odd thousands (FL 250, 270, etc.)
* Westbound - Magnetic Track 180 to 359° - even thousands (FL 260, 280, etc.)At FL 290 and above, if Reduced Vertical Separation Minima are not in use, 4,000 ft intervals are used to separate same-direction aircraft (instead of 2,000 ft intervals below FL 290), and only odd flight levels are assigned, depending on the direction of flight:
* Eastbound - Magnetic Track 000 to 179° - odd flight levels (FL 290, 330, 370, etc.)
* Westbound - Magnetic Track 180 to 359° - odd flight levels (FL 310, 350, 390, etc.)

Countries where the major airways are oriented north/south (e.g. New Zealand; France; Italy; Portugal) have semicircular rules that define a North/South rather than an East/West track split.In France, for example, southbound traffic uses odd flight levels.

Reduced Vertical Separation Minima

(In the U.S. and Canada, the foregoing information applies to flights under instrument flight rules (IFR). Different altitudes will apply for aircraft flying under visual flight rules (VFR) above 3000 ft AGL.)

Reduced Vertical Separation Minima or RVSM reduces the vertical separation above FL 290 from 2,000 ft to 1,000 ft. This allows aircraft to safely fly more optimum routes, gain fuel savings and increase airspace capacity by adding six new flight levels. Only aircraft that have been certified to meet RVSM standards, with several exclusions, are allowed to fly in RVSM airspace. RVSM went into effect in Europe between FL 290 and FL 410 on the 24th of January, 2002. The United States, Canada and Mexico transitioned to RVSM between FL 290 and FL 410 on the 20th of January, 2005.

* Track 000 to 179° - odd thousands (FL 290, 310, 330, etc.)
* Track 180 to 359° - even thousands (FL 300, 320, 340, etc.)At FL 410 and above, 4,000 ft intervals are resumed to separate same-direction aircraft and only odd Flight Levels are assigned, depending on the direction of flight:
* Track 000 to 179° - odd flight levels (FL 410, 450, 490, etc.)
* Track 180 to 359° - odd flight levels (FL 430, 470, 510, etc.)

Metric flight levels

China, Mongolia, Russia and many CIS countries use flight levels specified in metres. Aircraft entering these areas normally make a slight climb or descent to adjust for this.

The flight levels below apply to Russia, Mongolia, North Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and 6,000 m or below in Turkmenistan (where feet is used for FL210 and above). Flight levels are read as e.g. "flight level 7,500 metres":;Track 000 to 179°
*900 m (3,000 ft)
*1,500 m (4,900 ft)
*2,100 m (6,900 ft)
*2,700 m (8,900 ft)
*3,300 m (10,800 ft)
*3,900 m (12,800 ft)
*4,500 m (14,800 ft)
*5,100 m (16,700 ft)
*5,700 m (18,700 ft)
*6,300 m (20,700 ft)
*6,900 m (22,600 ft)
*7,500 m (24,600 ft)
*8,100 m (26,600 ft)
*9,100 m (29,900 ft)
*10,100 m (33,100 ft)
*11,100 m (36,400 ft)
*12,100 m (39,700 ft)
*14,100 m (46,300 ft)and every 2,000 metres thereafter.;Track 180 to 359°
*600 m (2,000 ft)
*1,200 m (3,900 ft)
*1,800 m (5,900 ft)
*2,400 m (7,900 ft)
*3,000 m (9,800 ft)
*3,600 m (11,800 ft)
*4,200 m (13,800 ft)
*4,800 m (15,700 ft)
*5,400 m (17,700 ft)
*6,000 m (19,700 ft)
*6,600 m (21,700 ft)
*7,200 m (23,600 ft)
*7,800 m (25,600 ft)
*8,600 m (28,200 ft)
*9,600 m (31,500 ft)
*10,600 m (34,800 ft)
*11,600 m (38,100 ft)
*13,100 m (43,000 ft)
*15,100 m (49,500 ft)and every 2,000 metres thereafter.

China

The flight levels in China, excluding Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, are:;True track 000° to 179°
*900 m (3,000 ft)
*1,500 m (4,900 ft)
*2,100 m (6,900 ft)
*2,700 m (8,900 ft)
*3,300 m (10,800 ft)
*3,900 m (12,800 ft)
*4,500 m (14,800 ft)
*5,100 m (16,700 ft)
*5,700 m (18,700 ft)
*6,300 m (20,700 ft)
*6,900 m (22,600 ft)
*7,500 m (24,600 ft)
*8,100 m (26,600 ft)
*8,900 m (29,100 ft)
*9,500 m (31,100 ft)
*10,100 m (33,100 ft)
*10,700 m (35,100 ft)
*11,300 m (37,100 ft)
*11,900 m (39,100 ft)
*12,500 m (41,100 ft)
*13,700 m (44,900 ft)and every 1,200 metres thereafter.;True track 180° to 359°
*600 m (2,000 ft)
*1,200 m (3,900 ft)
*1,800 m (5,900 ft)
*2,400 m (7,900 ft)
*3,000 m (9,800 ft)
*3,600 m (11,800 ft)
*4,200 m (13,800 ft)
*4,800 m (15,700 ft)
*5,400 m (17,700 ft)
*6,000 m (19,700 ft)
*6,600 m (21,700 ft)
*7,200 m (23,600 ft)
*7,800 m (25,600 ft)
*8,400 m (27,600 ft)
*9,200 m (30,100 ft)
*9,800 m (32,100 ft)
*10,400 m (34,100 ft)
*11,000 m (36,100 ft)
*11,600 m (38,100 ft)
*12,200 m (40,100 ft)
*13,100 m (43,000 ft)and every 1,200 metres thereafter.

ee also

* Flight planning


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