Hypothetical: Let's say (for whatever reason) a pilot became distracted or disorientated, and found themselves in class B airspace.

What steps should they take immediately and after landing to be safe and avoid any backlash from authorities?

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    $\begingroup$ Now that its been quite sometime, am eager to know your experience, how you handled it. It might point to some important areas where others can learn from. $\endgroup$
    – Firee
    Jul 21, 2016 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ One thing you should not do: go on Stack Exchange while flying to ask for advice. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Jun 10, 2018 at 23:48

3 Answers 3


While still in the airspace, you should contact the controller if you can, since it may be important to safety.

After landing, you may get the dreaded phone number from a controller (probably tower or ground) which you're supposed to call and speak with someone from the FAA. You should not volunteer any information about the incident during this call without talking to a lawyer or AOPA legal services first.

Then, most importantly, fill out a report in the Aviation Safety Reporting System. Any information you submit will not be used against you in an enforcement action by the FAA, and in many cases, people who volunteer information through the system receive much softer treatment, and sometimes forgo enforcement all together.

The reason the FAA incentivizes this self-reporting is so they can better collect information about accidents which inevitably happen. If they know why you accidentally strayed into the bravo, maybe they can improve procedures or charts to help keep other pilots from making the same mistakes.

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    $\begingroup$ This answer is very much focussed at the US situation. But I think in general the procedure is very similar in many countries. $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima
    Dec 17, 2013 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ @DeltaLima you're absolutely right. If you, or someone else, have specific advice for international flights, I think an additional answer would be very welcome here. $\endgroup$ Dec 17, 2013 at 22:05
  • $\begingroup$ @BretCopeland I'd love to add an answer if I could, but this is not really my field of expertise. Thank you for pointing out the use of the safety reporting systems, $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima
    Dec 17, 2013 at 22:55
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    $\begingroup$ @mah I don't have any way of knowing if that has any truth in it, but it would seem to be contradicted by the ASRS CONFIDENTIALITY AND INCENTIVES TO REPORT. $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2013 at 2:45
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    $\begingroup$ Note that there is no legal requirement to actually call the tower when they ask you to, and some recommend to just call your lawyer instead since anything that you tell them is recorded and may be used against you. $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Dec 18, 2013 at 13:33

I've done it three times in 1200 hours of flying, I must admit.

First time, my plane was performing better than usual (conditions were just right) and I nicked the SFO airspace on climb-out. About 20 minutes later, they called me with a phone number to call when I landed. Spent the rest of the flight shitting bricks. When I got to my destination, I was chewed out by the controller for about fifteen minutes.

I was so rattled I didn't leave my home airport again until I'd gone up with an instructor for a refresher.

Second time was in Boston. I flew through an airspace extension that wasn't on the map. Spent a few minutes on the radio arguing with the controller about it. "It's not on my map". "Well, we have a letter of agreement with the local airports." "But it's not on my map, how was I supposed to know?". Nothing else ever came of it.

Lesson learned: the space between the top of a class D and the bottom of the overlying class B airspace might be considered part of the class B, so just avoid them unless you're under ATC control.

Third time, I was in contact with ATC, skirting outside the lowest layer of their class B. I turned left to avoid a cloud when I should have turned right, and got chewed out by the controller and told to make an immediate right.

Anyway, the bottom line is that if you didn't actually endanger anybody, and just nicked the corner of the airspace (which is what I did in all three cases), you'll probably just get away with a stern talking-to.

But blunder through the path of an incoming airliner, and you're probably looking at a 4-month suspension of your license.

Filing an ASRS report is probably a very good idea if it ever happens to you.

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    $\begingroup$ was there a NOTAM about the extension? did you ever find out how you were supposed to know about the extension? I would be curious to know which Class D under the BOS Class B you're talking about. $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Dec 9, 2014 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ Now that you mention it, there could well have been a Notam that I didn't read. It was a very long time ago, and so I don't remember the details. $\endgroup$ Dec 10, 2014 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ There's a note in the Boston TAC to contact approach when flying above 2500' over OWD, BED, and BVY. You don't have to get clearance, but they do want you to be in contact with them (I just do flight following over there). $\endgroup$
    – jt000
    May 31, 2015 at 22:02
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I'm a big fan of flight following. I wish there was a way to file a VFR flight plan in advance and then activate with ATC to get flight following. $\endgroup$ Oct 30, 2015 at 18:32

Since this question doesn't specify whether the pilot is operating as VFR or IFR or if the pilot has had previous communications with ATC, my best recommendation is to directly exit the airspace and then contact ATC for clearance.

If you are on an IFR flight plan and following a previous clearance, I would continue on your last assigned clearance and contact ATC as soon as possible. I would not recommend landing inside Class-B airspace without clearance unless you have a communications failure. Even with a failure, it might be more practical/safe to land to the nearest destination outside of Class B.

Upon landing, fill out an ASRS report and, depending on the infraction, seek legal advice in some form like AOPA Pilot Protection Services.

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    $\begingroup$ If you are IFR and following a previous clearance, you are allowed to be in Class B airspace, so this would be a non-issue.... $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Jan 25, 2014 at 4:47
  • $\begingroup$ FAR 91.131(a)(1). The operator must receive an ATC clearance from the ATC facility having jurisdiction for that area before operating an aircraft in that area. It depends on who issued your last clearance and to what extent you where cleared. $\endgroup$
    – Magnetoz
    Jan 25, 2014 at 17:23
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, when you are IFR you are operating on an ATC clearance so no specific class B clearance is required. $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Jan 25, 2014 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, when you're flying IFR, under ATC control, airspaces basically don't exist for you. $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2016 at 3:54

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