Types of Altitude

Types of Altitude



Are you enrolling a private pilot licence course (PPL) or  Airline Transport Pilot course (ATPL)?. How many types of altitudes you know?.

In this post we will clarify this questions but first I strongly recommend first to read this old posts, in order to get better understanding of this concepts.

We must differentiate between:

The altitude we are flying, which for the moment we will say it is the real altitude, and an altitude only used to make calculations, in order to know the performances of an airplane. I would like to highlight that it does not have anything to do with the real altitude.


Real Altitude:

Talking properly depends where the reference is we are in and determined altitude or hight.

Hight: Vertical distance between the ground and our plane.

Altitude: Vertical distance between the mean sea level and our plane.

¿ How does our plane measure our altitude/hight?

We have a flight instrument called altimeter. It basically compares two pressures, one measured by the probes of the plane and the other the one you choose as a reference.


In the picture above you have an example of an altimeter, which I highlighted a number that you can modify. There you can put the reference pressure.

For example if you choose as a reference the QNH, pressure of the mean sea level this particular day. You get as a result the altitude. If you choose the pressure in the ground, called QFE, you have the hight.

When we are high enough to overfly all obstacles, our main duty is to have enough separation with other planes, that is why we must select a pressure of 1013 in our altimeter, QNE. So all traffics have the same altimeter indication

I would like to remark this pressure it was chosen in the ICAO International Standard Atmosphere as a reference.



Altitude for making calculations:

¿ Why have I chosen this name?

Because to calculate the runway we use, the rate of climb we need etc … We must know the behaviour of the aircraft in each altitude. As we saw in the ICAO International Standard Atmosphere the higher we fly the less density we have.

 This affects the engine efficiency, because it can move less particles backwards so its forward movement is reduced (third newton´s law).

¿ Do we have a chart for every specific day?

No, that would be too complex, besides that we have another method which consist on calculating the behaviour of our plane each altitude under I.S.A conditions.

First I get the pressure altitude, which is a pressure expressed in altitude, always in ISA conditions. For example in the picture below we have an ISA values table. Instead of saying we have a pressure of 0.9644 is easier to say my pressure altitude is 1000 ft.



Then I correct it by the temperature deviation and the result is the Density Altitude.










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