The situation is as following - I requested flight following at approach, got a squawk and instructed to maintain VFR with heading and altitude at my discretion. My route is through class D and class C airspace for the altitude I chose. The question is - should I establish additional communications or report to the approach controller about flying through the class C and D airspace, or I am already permitted to do this?


Lets back up a minute and discuss what is required to enter C and D airspace.

For C and D airspace you must establish 2 way radio communications with tower or approach controller. Let's first discuss how this works if you are not taking Flight Following. As you approach Class C airspace you hail them and wait for a response, for example,

You: "Allentown Approach Piper 1234J @ 3000 en route to Queen City Municipal"

Controller: "1234J Squawk 1-3-5-2 and Ident"

Since the controller responded with your tail number you may enter the Charlie airspace (Delta has the same requirements).

Now when you are under Flight Following, ATC will coordinate a handoff to the Approach or Tower for the airspace you are about to enter, or ATC will say "radar services terminated," and you must contact the controller/tower yourself before entering.

You SHOULD NOT change frequencies until you are told to do so, since ATC may be trying to give you a traffic advisory. You can however tune your second radio (if you have one) to the approach/tower you are approaching, and begin to monitor traffic.

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    $\begingroup$ To amplify a point that is screwed up frequently where I fly: If flight following drops you or you're booted out of the IFR system (i.e. "If the controller says Radar services terminated") you are no longer in two-way radio communication with ATC and are not authorized to enter Class C and D airspace. (You're also not authorized to enter Class B airspace in this situation, obviously.) You must establish two-way communication with the controlling authority for that airspace on your own prior to entry. $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Sep 10 '15 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ Often the controller you're talking to will notify the tower or appch controller and approve a frequency change. Wonderful! But you have not yet established two-way comms with the right ATC and therefore have not met that requirement. Upon being approved for a freq change, attempt to contact the controller and if that fails (e.g. he's busy), avoid the airspace until two-way comm is established. If flying through controlled airspace the same applies; request a handoff from the controller you're talking to if he hasn't volunteered one, and don't enter until comms are established. $\endgroup$ – hemp Nov 26 '15 at 8:13
  • $\begingroup$ @voretaq7 your point about "Radar Services Terminated" is not quite true. To enter Class C, you must be in 2-way radio contact with the controlling authority. You can't call up, say, New York Center and then enter a Class C controlled by NY Approach. Once center hears your altitude & position, they will tell you "N69VT, contact approach on ..." So even though you hear your numbers, that is not 2-way radio communications sufficient to enter the Class C because NY Center is not the controlling authority. It is the 2d phrase "Frequency change approved" that terminates your 2-way radio contact. $\endgroup$ – rbp Mar 25 '16 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ (con't) The phraseology is "N69VT, Radar services terminated, squawk VFR, frequency change approved." Perhaps your TRACON abbreviates it to simply "Radar services terminated"? $\endgroup$ – rbp Mar 25 '16 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ @rbp -- That isn't guaranteed. if the controller you are talking to has handed you off then you're fine. But flight following is not the same as IFR, it's a secondary service, and a busy controller may not hand you off before you enter someone else's airspace as they're not required to. If that happens and you enter the airspace anyway, you are violating and you'll likely get a very unpleasant instruction from that controller to call and explain yourself. If I haven't been given a frequency change, I never assume I'm clear to enter. Usually I'll just call and request the change. $\endgroup$ – hemp Mar 31 '16 at 18:35

As per JO 7110.65W ATC, Section 2-1-16 SURFACE AREAS, when you are in contact with ATC, you do not need to specifically ask for authorization to enter a towered service area:

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

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice find. Wonder if it's anywhere on the pilot side of regs. $\endgroup$ – egid Apr 9 '16 at 0:28
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    $\begingroup$ Very nice find. However, I would caution that "not expected to" is not the same as "not required to". As the pilot, you are still responsible for following the regs, and VFR Flight Following is different than being under IFR control. Flight Following is workload-permitted for the controller, and VFR traffic is lower-priority than IFR. As the pilot, if your route goes through Class C and you haven't been given permission to enter, I'd ask before I got there and not enter if you still haven't received clearance. $\endgroup$ – Shawn Apr 20 '16 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ there is no such thing as "reciev[ing] clearance" through Class C. If you are talking to ATC, and they are communicating your tail number, and you have not be told to stay out, then you have permission to enter. You don't need to be given explicit permission. $\endgroup$ – rbp Apr 20 '16 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry for the confusion on my part. No you don't need permission to enter C. B, yes, but C No. C I would still ping the controller before I got there. B I would ping the controller and stay out until cleared through. After making a point of what you DON'T have to do, I kinda switched over to a "what WOULD I do" view. $\endgroup$ – Shawn Apr 20 '16 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ Does this apply to VFR, IFR, or both? $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Feb 21 '17 at 21:57

Since you are already in radio contact with the ATC agency that controls the Charlie airspace (aka Approach), you are already allowed to enter it.

(If Approach doesn't want you in their Charlie, they'll say so: "N12345, remain outside the Charlie".)

  • $\begingroup$ To nitpick a bit, you don't actually need permission to enter the Class C airspace, just establish two-way communication. The controller has no say over what you do outside of his airspace. He can tell you "Don't enter", but you don't have to comply. You'd be foolish, not to, but you can enter anyway without violating any rules. However, once inside the Class C, if he says "Get out!" you have to follow his instruction. Class B is different. It requires permission to enter. $\endgroup$ – Shawn Mar 24 '16 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ @shawn both of those are wrong. 91.123 (b) Except in an emergency, no person may operate an aircraft contrary to an ATC instruction in an area in which air traffic control is exercised. $\endgroup$ – rbp Mar 31 '16 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ Air traffic control is exercised in all airspace classes except G, and also in towered class g airports. $\endgroup$ – rbp Mar 31 '16 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Shawn You are completely mistaken in all of the comments on this thread. 1. If you are given an instruction by ATC you must comply. So if you are told to stay out, you must stay out. 2. You can’t enter C or D airspace without establishing communication. Read the examples in the AIM to clear up your confusion. 3. In Class E airspace ATC keeps IFR traffic separate from other IFR traffic. If the conditions are VFR everyone is responsible for see-and-avoid. $\endgroup$ – JScarry Feb 22 '17 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ You may not think you are confused, but you are wrongity wrong wrong wrong. You might want to read the comments on the accepted answer. If you are talking to ATC, they have authority over you. I take §91.123 Compliance with ATC clearances and instructions. literally. (a) When an ATC clearance has been obtained, no pilot in command may deviate from that clearance unless an amended clearance is obtained, an emergency exists, or the deviation is in response to a traffic alert and collision avoidance system resolution advisory. . $\endgroup$ – JScarry Feb 24 '17 at 1:11

And to follow @vortaq7's point, if you lose radio comms with Flight Following AFTER you've entered the Class C, the regs are a bit unclear. It kinda boils down to FLY THE PLANE + USE GOOD JUDGEMENT. Definitely try to re-establish comms with someone related to the Class C, but you don't necessarily have to leave ASAP or squawk 7600. If you're landing inside the Class C, or transitioning close to the tower, look for light guns, otherwise, try to be _predictable_. If the tower can't talk to you, at least they can direct other people around you if they can tell what your intention is.

  • $\begingroup$ the regs are in fact quite clear: 91.129 Each person must establish two-way radio communications with the ATC facility providing air traffic services prior to entering that airspace and thereafter maintain those communications while within that airspace. If you have lost comms, nothing regarding 129 changes, and you should indeed follow normal lost comms procedure, which includes squawking 7600. Flying in Class C with loss comms on your assigned code will just confuse ATC. $\endgroup$ – rbp Apr 20 '16 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ Not sure why the downvote. The reg you quoted says nothing about lost comms and everything I said agrees exactly with the reg you quoted. Also, keep in mind the OP is VFR. The process is a little bit different than IFR. On VFR, really you should squawk 1200 after leaving the Class C on your current heading, continue to your destination and avoid other controlled airspace. But I still say your best bet is to be predictable and exercise good judgement. $\endgroup$ – Shawn Apr 20 '16 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ the downvote is because your answer is wrong, as is your newly added comment. peace out. $\endgroup$ – rbp Apr 20 '16 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ 91.130 - Operations in Class C airspace" says to follow 91.129 - Operations in Class D airspace. 130 doesn't list what to do if comms failure, but 130 does. Most of that really only applies to weather clearance and landing inside that airspace; there's not much about transitioning the airspace under VFR. 91.185 mentions comm failure, but it's for IFR operations. The best I can find is AIM 6-4 that actually details 2-way Comm Failure. the gist of that one is pretty much "use good judgement". $\endgroup$ – Shawn Apr 20 '16 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ (cont) VFR and IFR are detailed a bit differently, and VFR says "continue flight and land as soon as practicable" and further notes that "practicable" doesn't mean "possible". 6-4 suggests squawk 7600 for comms failure, but that seems to apply more to IFR, and I don't know where I saw the AIM suggest VFR squawk 1200 and remain clear of airspace. I'd have to hunt for it. 7600 will ring bells at ATC and will likely make them move things way out of your way, so you have to decide if a VFR comm loss is enough of an issue to require you to contact the FAA and explain your issue. $\endgroup$ – Shawn Apr 20 '16 at 17:34

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