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8 Answers

Contact with class B controller and penetration of adjacent class D

Asked by: 3445 views Airspace, FAA Regulations

Let's say that you are flying under VFR flight following in the area of a Class B airspace.  You want to do some sightseeing around an area that lies under the B airspace and are doing so, communicating with the approach controller.  Near your sightseeing area is an area of Class D airspace surrounding a satellite airport, within the lateral limits of, but underlying the floor of the Class B.

For example, you are flying in the vicinity of downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at an altitude of 2,900 MSL, just under the B airspace surrounding KPIT and adjacent to the Class D airspace of KAGC.

Several scenarios (in all cases you have established two-way contact with the approach controller for the B airspace)

1.  the controller has instructed you to remain clear of the B airspace but has requested you remain at or below an altitude that is below the floor of the B but also below the ceiling of the D airspace. Your flight path may intersect the nearby D airspace. Is your contact with the approach controller satisfying the two-way communication requirement to enter the D airspace, or do you need to be speaking with the tower controller for the D airspace?

2. The approach controller has cleared you through the B airspace at or below a certain altitude. You have exited the B airspace (by crossing an altitude step in the floor of B) and are orbiting your sightseeing point of interest, still in two-way communication with the approach controller. Have you satisfied the conditions required for penetration of the D airspace? Also, are you still able re-enter the B airspace during an orbit without a new clearance to enter?

I ask because the best answer I could get from a local CFI (flying with me) was "I've never had a problem with it before."

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8 Answers

  1. Ash on May 30, 2014

    It’s my understanding that in order to fly in class D airspace, you must establish 2 way radio communications with the ATC facility responsible for controlling that airspace. That would be the control tower, not the approach control.

    In your scenario, I would query approach control before entering the class D airspace – “Approach, should Cessna 123 contact tower before entering Class D airspace?” would work. Never be afraid to ask for clarification, ATC is there to help, but they can’t do that if you don’t ask first!

    Hope that was helpful.


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  2. 1001001 on May 30, 2014

    Ash, thanks, that was my interpretation as well, but I the local CFI seemed unconcerned with the situation. Perhaps this is handled locally by the controllers, but 91.129(c) seems to require contact with the ATC facility “providing air traffic services” but is not clear as to whether this means the “facility providing services” to the aircraft or for the particular airspace.

    Maybe there is an unpublished letter of agreement between the two facilities? I just know that in Pittsburgh, at least, it is common for sightseeing VFR pilots to be on VFR flight following with the PIT approach controller, but you don’t often hear them changing freqs to AGC tower.

    To my second question, if one is cleared through B airspace and exits briefly, is it permitted to re-enter without a specific new clearance to enter?

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  3. Felix on May 30, 2014

    I agree with Ash. The Class D is controlled by tower. If you are on flight following and you are about to fly through a Class D you should always either ask for Frequency change to talk to the Class D tower, or double check with the controller on frequency.

    As for the sightseeing flights, there could definitely be some sort of agreement between the Class D airport and the sightseeing operation, but unless you are flying that sightseeing operation you should assume you don’t have permission to enter.

    As for your second question. I don’t know if you are permitted to re-enter, but if I was in that situation I wouldn’t hesitate to ask the controller. “Approach, 123AB is outside of the Class B, are we still clear to re-enter the Class B?”.

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  4. Mark Kolber on May 30, 2014

    I agree with 1001001’s instructor, but you should really be asking him or her for the explanation.

    The ATC Handbook specifically gives the Approach controller the responsibility to “Coordinate with the appropriate control tower for transit authorization when you are providing radar traffic advisory service to an aircraft that will enter another facility’s airspace.”

    It even includes a note saying:

    NOTE- The pilot is not expected to obtain his/her own authorization through each area when in contact with a radar facility.

    See paragraph 2-1-16, “SURFACE AREAS” in the ATC Handbook

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  5. 1001001 on May 30, 2014

    Mark, thanks for your reply. As I said, the best explanation the CFI could offer was “never had a problem before,” which was not quite good enough for me. I thank you for providing the reference material!

    To Felix, I agree that asking to verify clearances is good policy. In the particular area I’m talking about, these airspace are in very close proximity and not well laid out with VFR sightseeing in mind–orbiting “the Point” in Pittsburgh can take you into three different types of airspace and two stadium TFRs in one circle of less than two nautical miles diameter, which is why I was asking the question. Calling controllers for each airspace transition would likely not make you too many friends or at least make them less likely to provide flight following in the area. Also, this is not a commercial sightseeing operation, but simply VFR traffic seeing the sights over the downtown area. Thanks for your reply!

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  6. Mark Kolber on May 30, 2014

    1001001, I think at least part of the reason for the policy is that there are often Letters of Agreement (LOA) between Tower and TRACON facilities and we, as pilots, can’t be expected to know them.

    As an example, I was once flying along the west side, just outside the the Denver Class B and would be crossing over KBJC at 7500′. As you can see from this chart, that would put me 500′ below the top of the KBJC Class D.

    I elected not to use Flight Following, so I called KBJC Tower for transit permission. Their reply? “Call Approach.” Apparently there was a LOA covering flights about 7,000 that gave responsibility to TRACON.

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  7. Mark Kolber on Jun 01, 2014

    To my second question, if one is cleared through B airspace and exits briefly, is it permitted to re-enter without a specific new clearance to enter?

    No it’s not. Think about it for a moment and you’ll probably realize your initial clearance into Class B was based on a number of factors specifically including (1) your intended route of flight and (2) the level and direction of other Class B traffic (3) at that time.

    All three elements have now changed, haven’t they?

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  8. 1001001 on Jun 01, 2014


    That makes sense. I suppose if the controller specifically authorized one to orbit in the area and acknowledged that the flight path would exit and re-enter the airspace, it would not require a new clearance, but absent the specific approval, I would request it to cover all the bases.

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