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Airlines, student pilots, corporate jets, and weekend fliers all share Class C Airspace. While you may not need a "clearance" to enter it, there are a few things you should know...
Class C airspace covers busy airports, which usually have a mix of airline and general aviation traffic. Class C airspace is considerably smaller than Class B airspace, and Air Traffic Control does not provide the same level of separation service as you would find in Class B airspace. However, you still talk to ATC while inside Class C airspace, and your Mode-C transponder (which is required) provides them your altitude information.
Controlled airspace is largely dedicated to protecting IFR aircraft from traffic conflicts, and that's no exception inside Class C. With a large volume of instrument traffic arriving and departing Class C, it can be thought of as the second most restrictive form of airspace found around an airport. Class C airspace is found at mid-size airports like Daytona, FL (KDAB), Richmond, VA (KRIC), and Burbank, CA (KBUR).
Class C minimum weather requirements exist so that you can see and avoid other aircraft. Since Class C is busy airspace, ATC wants you to stay far enough away from the clouds so you can see and avoid other airplanes, especially jets flying fast approaches.
An easy way to remember VFR weather minimums for Class C airspace is the phrase "3 Cessna 152s". Each number in the phrase stands for one of the distances:
You'll need a two-way radio and Mode-C transponder onboard your airplane to enter Class C airspace, so that you can maintain communication with ATC and so that they can track your location and altitude on their radar scope. While you don't need an operable transponder to fly below a Class C shelf, you will need one to fly above Class C airspace. As you approach a Class C airport, you'll contact that airspace's approach control. Call ATC on the radio before you're in Class C airspace and make sure to tell them:
But what allows you to enter the airspace? Once you hear your callsign, you can enter the Class C airspace. Keep these important facts in mind:
The upside-down wedding cake shape allows arriving and departing aircraft to remain in the Class C airspace, and safely separated from other aircraft. At the same time, lower, slower airplanes can continue operating at smaller airports outside (but near) Class C airspace, and still remain outside the airspace.
The inner ring of Class C airspace typically extends from the surface to 4,000' above the airport, and has a radius of 5NM. The outer ring of Class C airspace typically extends from 1,200' above the airport to 4,000' above the airport, and has a radius of 10NM.
Vertical boundaries of Class C airspace are made up of two sets of bold magenta numbers, separated by a magenta horizontal line.
Altitudes for Class C airspace are inclusive, meaning if you fly at the altitude marked on the map, you are in Class C airspace.
Not all Class C airspace is in the shape of a perfect circle, however. Take Asheville, North Carolina (KAVL), for instance. Situated in a valley and surrounded by mountains over 2,000 feet above field elevation, Asheville's airspace is an oblong shape. Two reasons for this include limited radar coverage due to terrain, in addition to the established instrument approach corridors.
While you shouldn't feel nervous about flying into Class C airspace, you should always have a plan and think ahead of the airplane. Brief everything, whether you're entering the traffic pattern, taking off, landing, or even taxiing. Between busy radios, unfamiliar airports, and plenty of traffic, you might find yourself getting busy fast. Handling situations is infinitely easier once you have a plan in place, rather than making something up on the fly. Never forget to ask for ATC assistance if you get confused; they're there for a reason.
Easy enough, right? Class C is usually a mix between general aviation and airline traffic. Make sure to listen out for your callsign before flying into Class C airspace, and always remember to ask for help if you're confused.
Want to learn more about airspace? Check out our online course here.
What's your favorite Class C airport to fly into? Tell us in the comments below.
Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, commercially licensed pilot with multi-engine and instrument ratings, and a commercial aviation student at the University of North Dakota. He's the author of the articles, quizzes and lists you love to read every week. Swayne's experience ranges from international flights in a King Air F90 to ferrying a 1943 Grumman Widgeon across the country. You can reach Swayne at email@example.com, and follow his flying adventures at http://www.swaynemartin.com.