What is PA in Aviation? (Pressure Altitude)

In aviation, pressure altitude (PA) is a term used to describe the altitude above a standard reference plane known as the standard datum plane. It is an important concept in aviation as it is used to determine aircraft performance, establish flight levels, and calculate density altitude. Pressure altitude provides a standardized measure of altitude that allows pilots and air traffic controllers to communicate and operate safely in the airspace.

Pressure altitude is calculated by measuring the atmospheric pressure at a given location and comparing it to the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level. The standard atmospheric pressure at sea level is typically 1013.25 hPa or 29.92 inches of mercury (inHg) in the United States. To calculate pressure altitude, the local atmospheric pressure is divided by the standard pressure, and the result is multiplied by 1,000 feet.

For example, if the current atmospheric pressure is 990 hPa, the pressure altitude would be calculated as follows:

(990 hPa / 1013.25 hPa) * 1,000 feet = 976.5 feet

Uses of Pressure Altitude in Aviation

Pressure altitude has several important uses in aviation. Let’s explore some of them:

1. Aircraft Performance

Pressure altitude is used to determine aircraft performance in terms of power output, fuel consumption, and climb rates. As aircraft engines rely on the density of the air to generate the necessary power for flight, understanding the pressure altitude allows pilots to make accurate performance calculations. Higher pressure altitudes result in reduced engine performance due to the lower density of the air.

For example, at a higher pressure altitude, the same engine will produce less power, impacting climb rates and fuel consumption. Pilots must take the pressure altitude into account when planning their flights to ensure they have sufficient power to maintain desired performance.

2. Flight Levels

Pressure altitude is also used to establish flight levels, which are the specific altitude ranges assigned to aircraft for safe and efficient air traffic control. Flight levels are defined in terms of hundreds of feet above the standard datum plane (pressure altitude in feet divided by 100). By using pressure altitude to determine flight levels, air traffic controllers can maintain vertical separation between aircraft, reducing the risk of mid-air collisions.

For example, an aircraft flying at a pressure altitude of 32,000 feet would be assigned Flight Level 320 (320 = 32,000 feet / 100). Pilots use altimeters set to the local altimeter setting, which provides the pressure altitude, to maintain their assigned flight level during the flight.

3. Density Altitude

Density altitude is another important concept in aviation that is derived from pressure altitude. Density altitude is the pressure altitude adjusted for non-standard temperature. It represents the density of the air as it relates to aircraft performance, specifically the engine’s ability to produce power and the aircraft’s lift characteristics.

As temperature increases, air density decreases, resulting in decreased engine performance and reduced lift. Density altitude is used to calculate the true airspeed of an aircraft, as well as its takeoff and landing performance. It is crucial for pilots to consider density altitude during flight planning to ensure safe and efficient operations.

For more information on density altitude, you can check out this article on density altitude.


Pressure altitude plays a significant role in aviation, providing a standardized measure of altitude for various operational purposes. Understanding pressure altitude is crucial for pilots, air traffic controllers, and aviation professionals as it allows for safe and efficient flight operations. From calculating aircraft performance to establishing flight levels and considering density altitude, pressure altitude helps ensure the safety and success of aviation endeavors.

For More: What is DMI in Aviation? (Deferred Maintenance Item)