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Even though the sky is a wide-open area, there are still speed limits you have to follow. Learn all about how fast you can fly in this expert guide.

If you’ve ever driven a car just about anywhere, then you know all about speed limits. Down here on the ground, it’s common knowledge that you can only drive at a certain speed in certain areas and on certain roads. But what about if you’re flying an airplane? Are there also speed limits that you have to follow while flying?

At an altitude below 10,000 feet MSL, all aircraft have a speed limit of 288 mph (250 knots). Above 10,000 feet MSL, the speed limit goes up to Mach 1, but you are not allowed to break the sound barrier. Class B, C, and D airspaces have a speed limit of 230 mph (200 knots) near the airport.

Did you know there are speed limits for aircraft flying in the United States? The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets speed limits for different types of airspace to ensure the safety of all aircraft. In this blog post, we will discuss the different speed limits for aircraft and what happens if they exceed those speeds.

At SkyTough, we pride ourselves on providing our readers with nothing but the best, most accurate content that we can. We’ve been in your shoes so we know what kind of information you’re looking for. A topic like this one isn’t very opinion-based where we can provide much anecdotal evidence, since you really want to know how fast you can fly. So we’ve done the research and will go over all the aircraft speed limits you need to keep in mind.

Table of contents


Aircraft Speed Limits Below 10,000 Feet MSL

For most private pilots operating smaller airplanes like a Cessna or Piper, they will likely never exceed altitudes above 10,000 feet MSL, so it's important to know what the speed limit is up to that height. The speed limit for aircraft flying below 10,000 feet MSL is 250 knots (288 mph). This is the standard speed limit in uncontrolled airspace in the United States.

For pilots of aircraft that fly much faster than these speeds at higher altitudes, such as commercial pilots or pilots of any sort of turbine plane, this is important because you'll have to level off at 10,000 feet or above and slow your speed. This way, you can stay within the regulated airspace and below the speed limit.

Aircraft Speed Limits Above 10,000 Feet MSL

The second major general airspace category is above 10,000 feet MSL, where the speed limit is automatically set at Mach One. This is due to the fact that it is generally harder to fly an aircraft above this altitude due to increased traffic (including heavy commercial traffic), so the FAA has put a limit in place.

Mach One is the speed of sound and is equivalent to about 767 miles per hour. This is the speed limit that all aircraft must stay below while flying in controlled airspace in the United States. This was largely put in place because breaking the sound barrier can cause a sonic boom, which is a loud noise that can damage property and disrupt people on the ground.

For just about anyone reading this, including myself as I write it, exceeding the speed limit above 10000 feet MSL is not something we will likely ever do. But it's still important to know for those who may find themselves in that situation.

Speed Limits While Flying in Class B Airspace

The next airspace category is Class B airspace, which generally surrounds many major airports. In general, there actually is not a specific speed limit for all of Class B airspace here in the US. If you're below 10,000 feet MSL, you still have to meet the same 250-knot limit described above. However, if you're flying at or above 10,000 feet MSL in Class B airspace, the speed limit is automatically set at Mach One like it is in general controlled airspace.

The thing to keep in mind about Class B airspace is actually the area under it. No one is allowed to operate an aircraft faster than 200 knots (230 mph) beneath Class B airspace. This is due to the fact that there is a lot of traffic in and out of these airports, so the FAA has put a limit in place to ensure the safety of everyone.

Speed Limits While Flying in Class C/ClassD Airspace

Next are Class C and Class D airspace, which generally surround smaller airports. The speed limit for both of these airspace categories is 200 knots (230 mph). This speed limit is enforced within four nautical miles from the airport that the airspace is surrounding and must be adhered to for any planes flying at 2,500 feet MSL or below.

Are There Any Aircraft Speed Limit Exceptions?

Now, there are a few exceptions to these aircraft speed limits. The first is if an aircraft's minimum safe operating speed is higher than the maximum speed limit. In this case, the aircraft must maintain its minimum safe operating speed. It is generally a good idea to relay this information to Air Traffic Control so they are aware of the situation.

Another exception is if an aircraft is flying in bad weather conditions. Suppose visibility is low or there is turbulence. In that case, the aircraft may need to slow down or speed up in order to maintain a safe flying speed and avoid any severe weather conditions that could put the lives of everyone on board in danger. In these cases, it is again a good idea to relay this information to Air Traffic Control so they are aware of the situation and can provide any necessary assistance.

One last exception (which most of us will likely never have to concern ourselves with) is if an aircraft is flying in formation with another aircraft. In this case, the lead aircraft will determine the speed at the formation flies. All other aircraft in the formation must maintain this speed and stay a specified distance away from the lead aircraft.

What Happens if an Aircraft Exceeds the Speed Limit?

So, what happens if an aircraft exceeds the speed limit?

Well, it really depends on the situation. If an aircraft is flying below the speed limit and needs to speed up in order to maintain a safe flying speed or avoid severe weather conditions, Air Traffic Control may give permission for the aircraft to exceed the speed limit. However, if an aircraft is flying above the speed limit and needs to slow down, Air Traffic Control will instruct the aircraft to do so.

If an aircraft exceeds the speed limit without permission from Air Traffic Control, it can be subject to a warning, loss of pilot certification, or even criminal charges. Of course, it isn't like here on the ground where you're going to get pulled over by a cop and get a citation. Breaking any aviation laws can potentially be a much bigger deal, so it's better to just know the speed limits and adhere to them. If anything happens, always discuss it with ATC and you should be fine!

In conclusion, there are many different speed limits that aircraft must adhere to while flying. These speed limits are in place for a reason, and that is to maintain a safe flying environment for everyone involved. So, the next time you're up in the air, make sure you know what the speed limit is and stick to it! Thanks for reading!