In areas tightly packed with airports (FXE, PHF, and countless others) it is possible to enter the airspace other than that of your destination airport. Some are less than 5 miles apart.

In particular, say you are on an IFR flight plan and cleared for a "visual approach" to your destination. While proceeding with the visual approach and descending, you could enter the class D airspace of a nearby airport.

You are in communication with the destination tower but not the tower of the other airspace you have just entered.

Is it the pilots responsibility to avoid the surrounding airspace or the tower controllers responsibility to coordinate with the other towner when IFR and conducting a Visual approach as referenced in AIM 5-4-23.


2 Answers 2


Visual approach responsibilities


Pilot's end:

(3). The pilot must, at all times, have either the airport or the preceding aircraft in sight.

Controller's end:

(3). Provide separation except when visual separation is being applied by the pilot.

(7). Continue flight following and traffic information until the aircraft has landed or has been instructed to change to advisory frequency.


For coordination with/between nonapproach control towers

§2-1-14 Coordinate Use of Airspace

(a). Ensure that the necessary coordination has been accomplished before you allow an aircraft under your control to enter another controller’s area of jurisdiction.

(b). Before you issue a control instruction directly to a pilot that will change the aircraft’s heading, route, speed, or altitude, you must ensure that coordination has been completed with all controllers whose area of jurisdiction is affected by those instructions unless otherwise specified by a letter of agreement or facility directive. If your control instruction will be relayed to the pilot through a source other than another radar controller (FSS, ARINC, another pilot, etc.), you are still responsible to ensure that all required coordination is completed.

§2-1-16 Surface Areas

(a). Coordinate with the appropriate nonapproach control tower on an individual aircraft basis before issuing a clearance which would require flight within a surface area for which the tower has responsibility unless otherwise specified in a letter of agreement.

(b). 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.

(c). Transfer communications to the appropriate facility, if required, prior to operation within a surface area for which the tower has responsibility.

§2-1-17 Radio Communications

(a). Transfer radio communications before an aircraft enters the receiving controller’s area of jurisdiction unless otherwise coordinated or specified by a letter of agreement or a facility directive.

ATC (JO 7110.65W)

Short version of the above

ATC (terminal or tower) will need to instruct an altitude and/or heading so you don't deviate and surprise/buzz a Class D you're not going to. Otherwise they'll need to transfer the comms, which I'm sure they don't want to. Unless there's a prior agreement between the different facilities.

Pilot needs to have preceding traffic or field in sight.

Terminal ATC needs to keep an eye on all traffic and provide traffic information, until they handoff the pilot to tower or CTAF.

  • $\begingroup$ For clarity and ease of reading, you might consider using the blockquote markup to show which parts of your answer are direct quotes and which parts are your own words. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding "The pilot must... have... the preceding aircraft in sight", what is the ATC procedure here? I am guessing "American 123, cleared left-hand visual 26L, following the A320 [that you just reported having in sight]'... does ATC have to stipulate 'maintain visual separation' etc? $\endgroup$
    – GregT
    Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ @GregT, per the 7110.65 7–4–3 c2: Clear an aircraft for a visual approach when: [...] the aircraft is to follow a preceding aircraft and the pilot reports the preceding aircraft in sight and is instructed to follow it. A visual approach clearance essentially removes many IFR separation requirements (e.g. terrain/obstruction clearance becomes the pilot's responsibility); accepting a "follow" visual approach means the pilot must avoid hitting the aircraft they're following. "Maintain visual" is not necessary. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 5:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @ymb1, ATC has another option besides "issue restrictions" or "transfer comms," which is: point out the aircraft to the controller owning the airspace and receive permission for the aircraft to transit the other controller's airspace without transferring comms. Not sure how often this actually happens. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 5:35

Under IFR the pilot is responsible for flying according to her assigned clearance and for obeying controller instructions (including frequency changes). The controllers are responsible for coordinating any necessary airspace transitions. The airspace classifications one sees depicted on a VFR chart are mostly irrelevant to IFR flight, and even to ATC - the controllers have separate agreements about who controls each sector of airspace, and those don't necessarily line up with the class B/C/D divisions.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Can you provide a reference for this opinion? $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 20:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Lnafziger, 14 CFR 91.123 is pretty straightforward IMO: once an IFR clearance has been obtained, a pilot must operate according to that clearance. It's no longer their responsibility to follow the Class B/C/D entry rules because they've been cleared to fly their assigned route no matter what type of airspace that route enters. This extends to a clearance to fly a visual approach. ATC will either issue restrictions to the pilot to avoid airspace they don't own, or coordinate with the controller who does own that airspace. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 5:31

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