Transponders & Gliders - In Which Airspace Are Gliders Exempted?
There is a tremendous amount of confusion about the language of FAR 91.215. The best way to unravel the regulation is to draw a cross section of the airspace descriptions, and then color in the areas as each paragraph of FAR 91.215 addresses transponder requirements and exemptions. Many airplane pilots, tower ATC personnel and FAA FSDO personnel are NOT familiar enough with the intricacies of this regulation, as it addresses sailplane operations, to answer inquiries correctly.
To ease your understanding, here are two pieces of artwork that you may download and print, which have drawn the cross section and colored the references for you. These were used in the June 2006 issue of Soaring for the same purpose.
SSA's position on transponder use in sailplanes is that it is a personal choice by an owner to install equipment that is not mandatory. If you fly in an area of busy airspace, with exposure and interaction with fast, heavy traffic, a transponder may be a very prudent system to have on board. Soaring pilots have a responsibility to understand and comply with FARs for access to airspace with equipment requirements.
The majority of the continental airspace volume is Class E. Certified transponder installations are required to be turned on in Class A, B, C, D, and E airspace. There is currently no legal provision for a pilot to choose to turn off transponders in flight with a certified installation, for any category of airframe.