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As a student pilot (soon to be private pilot), flying into any class B airport is intimidating. Many class B airports simply do not support general aviation and discourage pilots from coming in. For example, I know that the fees for landing at JFK are insane, and it would just not be practical or feasible to pick someone up who arrived on a commercial flight. My question is: are there any class B airports that support GA operations, and are there any at which it would be reasonable to fly in and pickup someone who arrived on a commercial flight?

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    $\begingroup$ Off the top of my head, PIT has seen a major decline in traffic since the USAir/American merger, to the extent that the Class B airspace is probably not really justified any longer. I've seen comments on reddit saying it's relatively easy to get into in GA aircraft. $\endgroup$ – randomhead May 31 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ I know many private pilots (even before the pandemic) that flew into ORD. Every Class B with an FBO should be fine for GA operations, but you really have to be on the ball. VFR may be denied all together (call ahead to work it out with the tower, don't just show up), but if you are IFR and have filed a plan, they have to work you in. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer May 31 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ Aside from NY and DC, pretty much all B airports are GA-friendly as long as you have good radio skills. $\endgroup$ – StephenS May 31 at 19:08
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    $\begingroup$ KBWI (Baltimore) is fairly GA-friendly. There’s a small flight school on the field, Signature has an FBO, and GA parking is available. SR22s fly in and out all the time, and other larger GA aircraft are VERY common (I live under the approach to 15R and have a clear view of aircraft approaching 15L. BWI’s RWY 15L/33R is used exclusively by smaller aircraft- small/mid bizjets, GA, and a few small airlines operating PC-12s and C208s. I’ve seen more than once 172/152s doing touch and goes here. $\endgroup$ – MD88Fan May 31 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ Some private pilots make a point of flying into Class B airports whenever they can, just to get the experience. A few of these are on YouTube, such as Martin Pauly, who flew into JFK, stayed overnight and departed VFR in his Bonanza. You may find such videos interesting (but as always they are not intended as flight instruction). $\endgroup$ – Michael Hampton Jun 1 at 15:34
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Short answer; Basically all of them, but for the 7 landing slot airports you might need to pre-arrange your arrival.

It really depends what is going on at the airport, how willing you are to pay the fees, and if you feel confident handling the radio chatter as well as some possibly complicated taxi instructions. Pretty much all airports support some kind of private jet traffic so there is no reason you cant fly a dinky little PA-28 in. However if you intend on even considering this, keep in mind that you might get vectored elsewhere or not cleared for landing and if you do get in; expectations will be HIGH. In my experience controllers will not be happy about slow read backs, improper phraseology, taxi errors, or general confusion, there is a very good chance there is an airliner behind you and they are not going to be happy if they need to go around because you didn't vacate the runway expeditiously.

Ive landed at KPIT in a PA-32 that I was flying for a business trip, like any Class C airport of comparable size they had a pretty nice FBO that was not cheap... Its really no different than landing anywhere else with the exception of our approach being somewhat faster than usual as we were sandwiched between two airliners inbound.

During the pandemic I was even able to fly into JFK/EWR/LGA in a buddies C-172 all in the same day. EWR even sent us our own marshaling van which was bigger than the 172... While this was a somewhat special case as there was effectively no commercial traffic it is still very possible to land there in a GA aircraft.

KPHL supports GA operations and I'm pretty sure few light singles are even based there. It looks like KSFO has an FBO that supports private aviation and according to foreflight it looks like they do sell 100LL so they must expect something with a piston engine to show up. JFK also has a nice FBO you could use and here is a good account of a Mooney flying in. You can check up on the other major airports for similar facilities.


Its worth noting (since you are a student pilot). Its not all that uncommon to over-fly class B airports (at least its not in the PHL area I have done a lot of my flying) and even though these airports can be hard to get into normally in an emergency they will be more than happy to help out.

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Most* class B airports are surprisingly GA friendly if you are prepared. Martin Pauly has many YouTube videos of flying into class B airports all over the country in his Bonanza.

However, there are several challenges your primary training probably didn’t cover or prepare you for.

Radio skills

As a student, you aren’t even allowed into class B airspace (without an extra endorsement) because it’s assumed you won’t have good enough radio skills, and ATC is too busy to hold a student’s hand like they will at class C or D airports. Even many private pilots don’t acquire decent radio skills until they go through instrument training. There is no substitute for practice, so discuss with your CFI.

Traffic volume

Many class B airports are among the busiest in the world. However, that is mostly during the day, and they can seem like ghost towns at night. And even during the day, there will be “pushes” when a lot of planes arrive or depart and lulls between those pushes. If you call ahead, they can tell you the best times to arrive/depart; if you show up at the wrong time, especially VFR, you may end up holding for an hour or more until things calm down enough for ATC to deal with you.

A controller at SFO years ago told me about a Cherokee that showed up in the middle of a push asking for a touch-and-go. Rather annoyed and just wanting to get rid of him, they told him to “come back at 3am.” He indeed came back at 3am, and they were so amazed (and bored) that they actually let him do pattern work! Timing is everything.

Traffic speed

As a new private pilot, you’re likely flying slow piston planes that normally land at half the speed a jet does. This makes it very hard for ATC to fit you into the flow of traffic. Ask your CFI to show you how to do fast, no-flap landings, which will reduce (but not eliminate) the speed disparity and make things easier for ATC. Flying final at 100kt+ in a C172 or PA28 is not easy, but it can be done. Also ask about short approaches, which are another way you can help ATC fit you in, and long landings to avoid jets’ wake turbulence.

Taxiing

The taxi instructions you get are probably going to be longer and more complicated than any you’ve ever heard before. Some airports even have named routes (see the A/FD). Study the taxiway diagrams ahead of time so you’ll have a good idea what to expect, and that’s half the battle when it comes to radio skills. Also, since you’ll be calling ahead anyway to find the best time to show up, ask what runway to expect as well. Some B airports actually have a designated GA runway, and those that don’t will fairly predictably put you on the runway furthest from the airline terminals.

Worst case, you can ask for progressive taxi, but be prepared enough that you shouldn’t need it.

Fees, fuel and FBOs

Every B airport will have at least one FBO, and they pay huge rent to the airport, which gets passed on to you in the form of ramp fees. They will often waive or at least reduce those fees if you buy their overpriced gas, which you may need anyway. Call ahead and ask. Note that while the fees (or fuel) may be pricey, it may still be cheaper than landing at another airport and having your passenger take a taxi between the two.

Also, you’re not the first pilot doing what you propose; FBOs often shuttle passengers to/from the airline terminals. But they may need to know ahead of time to make sure a driver will be available, so mention that (or any other services you’ll need) during your call. They may also have security rules you and your passengers will need to follow, so ask about those as well. Be aware you are responsible for your passengers’ safety once they step out onto the ramp, so if they haven’t flown GA much, keep a very close eye on them.

Weather

Keep in mind the airlines will keep flying in conditions that you can’t, so always have a backup plan in place if you are unable to pick up your passenger—or get them back in time for their flight. Pressure to be there on time is a good way to put yourself into a situation you aren’t prepared for, which tends to be a fatal mistake. Your only goal as a student or private pilot is to arrive alive; let the professionals worry about schedules.

On the plus side, if the weather is even moderately bad, ATC won’t let you anywhere near a B airport anyway, and knowing that should help you avoid even attempting it.

Most, not all

There are a few airports that you shouldn’t even bother thinking about: JFK, LGA and DCA. These airports are slammed nearly 24x7 with airline traffic, and even IFR jets can’t get in without a slot reservation. And DCA also has security restrictions due to the SFRA/FRZ. You might have had a shot last year during the COVID downturn (as @Dave comments in his answer), but hopefully another event like that won’t happen again in our lifetimes.

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  • $\begingroup$ If the traffic is light, even weather may not be a problem. I once went up with my flight instructor at night, I think about 10:30 pm local time, for some instrument work. We asked for a practice ILS approach at KMSP and it was approved! Flew the approach in actual IMC until they called our missed, which was a bit above minimums. Got a look and could have landed easily enough. It never hurts to ask. $\endgroup$ – Fred Larson Jun 1 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ @FredLarson Once he has his IR, sure, but that changes a lot of other things too. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Jun 1 at 19:41

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