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FIRs and Drone Operations: What You Need to Know about Flight Information Regions

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The global airspace is divided into nine International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regions, also known as the ICAO Global Air Navigation Plan regions. The airspace is further divided into Flight Information Regions (FIRs).

This article addresses concepts, definitions, and basic terms related to FIRs.

Air Navigation Regions

ICAO groups each FIR into an air navigation region:

  • Africa-Indian Ocean Region (AFI)

  • Asia Region (ASIA)

  • Caribbean Region (CAR)

  • Europe Region (EUR)

  • Middle East Region (MID)

  • North America Region (NAM)

  • North Atlantic Region (NAT)

  • Pacific Region (PAC)

  • South America Region (SAM)

Each of the nine regions contains a varying number of FIRs.

What is a FIR?

According to EUROCONTROL, the definition of an FIR is “a defined airspace of specific dimensions within which flight information services and alerting services are provided.”

All airspace worldwide is divided into Flight Information Regions (FIRs). Each FIR is managed by a controlling authority responsible for ensuring that air traffic services are provided to aircraft flying within it.

Next, we will analyze the two air traffic services provided within FIRs:

Flight Information Service

This service reports changes that may affect flight safety, such as weather conditions or the state of navigation aids. It includes:

Aerodrome Information

Pilots are provided with information about visibility, wind, clouds, runway obstacles, and any factors that may affect operations at an aerodrome.

Approach Information

Pilots are given information about the runways in service at an aerodrome.

Route Information

Pilots receive information about weather conditions along flight routes, the state of radio navigation aids, and more.

Advisory Service

Pilots are informed about collision hazards.

Alerting Service

The alerting service is activated when an aircraft is involved in an incident. It notifies all relevant authorities of aircraft in need of search and rescue assistance. 

FIR Dimensions

The size of FIRs varies depending on the country or area they cover. Smaller countries may have a single FIR covering their airspace, while larger countries may have multiple FIRs. Airspace over the ocean is often divided into two or more FIRs, delegated to the control authorities of surrounding countries.

In some cases, FIRs are divided vertically into lower and upper sections:

  • Lower Section: The lower section is still called an FIR.

  • Upper Section: It is referred to as the Upper Information Region (UIR).

FIRs and Drone Operations: What You Need to Know about Flight Information Regions - EU Drone Port

Sections Within the FIR

The airspace within an FIR (and UIR) is typically divided into sections that vary in size and classification. Classifications determine the rules for flying within a specific part of the airspace and whether it is “controlled” or “uncontrolled.”

Uncontrolled Airspace

Aircraft flying in uncontrolled airspace are not obligated to receive air traffic control services, but they can request them if necessary (e.g., flight information services, alerting, and search and rescue services).

Controlled Airspace

Aircraft flying in controlled airspace must follow air traffic controller instructions. Within these controlled spaces, we find:

  • Aerodrome Traffic Zones (ATZ)

  • Control Zones (CTR)

  • Terminal Control Areas (TMA) and Control Area (CTA)

  • Airways

Each of these airspace areas has its own airspace classification along with its specific rules and dimensions.