Is Blue Tougher than Red?

As you study and learn the Sectional Chart symbols for landmarks and airspace you begin to notice a hidden message within the color codes. In most every case the color blue is used to depict a more stringent situation than the color red (magenta).

You probably think I have been looking at charts and airspace a little too long, but there are some simple tricks that will help any pilot navigate the coded complexities of an aeronautical chart. For one, on the chart, the color blue is tougher than red.

First take AIRPORTS

RED: The uncontrolled airport where no radios are required and only the guys pumping fuel are watching the traffic pattern … those are printed in magenta. (The image on the right.)BLUE: Controlled airports that require radio communications and are under the watchful eye of an air traffic controller are printed on the chart as a blue symbol.

Next, AIRSPACE — Class D&E

RED: When Class E airspace comes down and touches the surface, a dashed magenta line is used. (On the right.)BLUE: When controlled airspace to the surface also comes with a control tower it usually changes to Class D and is shown with a blue dashed line.


BLUE: Class B Airspace might be the most demanding of all. B’s surround the busiest airports, and some B’s are so busy that Student Pilots are not allowed. Class B lines are blue.

RED: Class C airports are busy, but they are not the biggest of the big like B’s. Student Pilots can fly to any Class C airport. Class C lines are magenta.

AIRSPACE — Special

BLUE: Special Use Airspace such as Prohibited, Restricted, Alert, and Warning Areas all present significant hazards to aircraft. In some cases the hazards include missiles, bombs, and target practice — serious stuff. All these areas are shown on the chart in blue.

RED: The Military Operations Area (MOA) is shown in red. MOA’s do not have the same hazardous (read: live fire) operations listed above. MOAs are essentially practice areas for military pilots in training. We should watch out in MOAs — but there are no bombs.


BLUE: Even navigational systems shown on the chart follow this hidden code. The VOR system has been the backbone of navigation for decades. We navigate from place to place using dependable airways that have VOR stations as their bookends. The VOR symbol, the VOR compass rose around the symbol, and the VOR information box are all blue.

RED: The NDB on the other hand is helpful, but normally cannot be used for enroute navigation. NDB’s are shown in red. With its calculations of relative bearing, the NDB is harder to — plus, on a stormy night it may not be useable at all.

VOR — reliable like an old friend — blue.
NDB — short range and confusing — red.

BOTTOM LINE: Blue versus Red. On an aeronautical chart, blue should be your wake up call. In aviation, blue is a subliminal message of stronger, tougher, faster, more stringent and indicates a higher level for just about anything … or maybe I’ve just been writing about airspace too long?