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What is AFE in Aviation? (Above Field Elevation)

Updated: February 16, 2024

Above Field Elevation (AFE): An Essential Term in Aviation

In the vast world of aviation, there are numerous technical terms and abbreviations that pilots, air traffic controllers, and aviation enthusiasts must be familiar with. One such term is Above Field Elevation (AFE), which plays a crucial role in ensuring safe and efficient operations in the aviation industry. In this article, we will delve into the significance of AFE, its applications, and its impact on flight operations.

The Importance of Above Field Elevation

Above Field Elevation, commonly abbreviated as AFE, refers to the altitude of an aircraft or any object relative to the elevation of the airfield or airport it is operating from. It is a critical parameter that pilots must take into account during various stages of flight, including takeoff, landing, and en-route navigation. Understanding and adhering to AFE is vital for maintaining the required separation between aircraft and terrain, obstacles, and other aircraft.

One of the primary applications of AFE is in the determination of obstacle clearance. Obstacles such as buildings, towers, and natural formations can pose a significant threat to aviation safety. By considering AFE, pilots can calculate the minimum altitude they need to maintain to ensure adequate clearance over these obstacles. This information is especially crucial during takeoff and landing, where the risk of colliding with nearby structures or terrain is higher.

Moreover, AFE is also essential for maintaining proper vertical separation between aircraft. Air traffic control (ATC) relies on accurate altitude information to establish and maintain safe separation between planes in the air. By providing ATC with their AFE, pilots enable controllers to assign appropriate altitudes and ensure that aircraft maintain the necessary vertical distance from each other. This helps prevent mid-air collisions and ensures the smooth flow of air traffic.

AFE and Instrument Procedures

When it comes to instrument procedures, AFE plays a significant role in ensuring precision and safety. Instrument procedures are standardized maneuvers and guidelines that pilots follow during instrument flight, where visibility may be limited. These procedures rely on precise altitude references to ensure aircraft stay on the designated flight path and avoid obstacles.

During instrument approaches, pilots use AFE to determine the decision altitude or height (DA/DH). The DA/DH is a specified altitude or height at which pilots must decide whether to continue the approach and land or execute a missed approach. By referencing the AFE, pilots can make informed decisions based on their altitude relative to the runway or other reference points, taking into account the minimum required visibility for the approach.

Instrument departure procedures also incorporate AFE to ensure obstacle clearance during the initial climb phase. These procedures provide a predetermined climb gradient that pilots must adhere to in order to maintain a safe altitude above field elevation while clearing any obstacles in the departure path. By following the published climb gradient based on AFE, pilots can navigate safely and efficiently during the critical departure phase.


Above Field Elevation (AFE) is an integral aspect of aviation that pilots and air traffic controllers must consider for safe and efficient flight operations. By understanding the significance of AFE, pilots can ensure obstacle clearance, maintain proper vertical separation, and adhere to instrument procedures. Whether during takeoff, landing, or en-route navigation, AFE plays a vital role in enhancing aviation safety and facilitating smooth air traffic flow.

For more aviation-related terms and information, feel free to explore the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) website, which provides comprehensive resources for pilots, air traffic controllers, and aviation enthusiasts.

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