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A VFR Pilot's Guide To Flying In Class B Airspace

Class B airspace surrounds the world's busiest airports. Most of the traffic is on an IFR flight plan - but you'll find VFR traffic inside, too. In "The Logic Behind Class B Airspace," we explained why Class B exists, how to identify it, and why it's shaped the way it is. But today, let's talk about what it takes to get into Class B as a VFR pilot.

Eric Salard

What You Need To Say (And Hear) To Get Into Class B

All VFR aircraft operating in Class B airspace require a clearance from ATC. To receive the clearance, you need to "request clearance into the Class Bravo" from ATC prior to entering the airspace.

When you request clearance into the airspace, ATC gives you a unique transponder squawk code so they can track you on radar. Once they've identified you, they'll tell you that you're "cleared into the Class Bravo airspace." Those are the key words, and you need to hear them before you enter the airspace.

If ATC tells you to 'standby.' or anything similar, you need to stay out of the airspace until you are cleared into it.

Haley Howard

With airplanes flying in heavily congested airspace, it's important for Air Traffic Control to keep them separated at a safe distance. Unlike other airspace types, Air Traffic Controllers are responsible for maintaining separation of all aircraft, including VFR airplanes like yours. That doesn't eliminate your responsibility to see-and-avoid other traffic. It just means another set of eyes are looking out for you.

In other types of airspace (C, D, E and G), controllers are only responsible to maintain separation of IFR aircraft.

Roger Schultz

Weather Requirements

Class B minimum weather requirements exist so that you can see and avoid other aircraft. Since Class B is the busiest type of airspace, you would expect that it comes with the highest visibility and cloud clearance requirements, right? Surprisingly, it doesn't. Why? The answer is because in Class B, Air Traffic Controllers are tracking your every move - altitude, speed and heading. It's the only type of airspace where this happens for VFR aircraft, and because of it, controllers can allow you to fly in worse weather and still allow you to "see and avoid" other aircraft.

These are your day and night requirements for flying in Class B airspace:

What does staying "clear of clouds" mean? It means that your airplane can operate up to, but not touch a cloud. That's pretty close.

But these weather minimums have a twist, and it's something commonly referred to as the "1000 and 3 Rule." According to FAR 91.155 (c) and (d), when you're in Class B airspace that starts at the surface, you cannot fly under the ceiling (a broken or overcast cloud layer) when the ceiling is less than 1000' AGL or when the visibility is less than 3SM. And actually, that's the case for any controlled airspace that extends to the surface at an airport. When weather conditions are worse than 1000' and 3SM, IFR aircraft could be flying instrument approach procedures, and you wouldn't have the ability to see-and-avoid them as they break out to land.

SVFR Clearances

When you're in Class B airspace that starts at the surface, you can request a Special VFR (SVFR) clearance when weather conditions are below the standard minimums. However, many Class B areas don't allow SVFR - check FAR 91, Appendix D, Section 3 to see if a Class B airport prohibits SVFR. Under Special VFR, you must remain clear of clouds and maintain a flight visibility of at least 1SM. If you're taking off or landing, the reported ground visibility must be at least 1SM.

You also need to hold a private pilot certificate, and you can only operate SVFR between sunrise and sunset. To operate SVFR after sunset, you need to be qualified for instrument flight under FAR 61, and your aircraft needs to be equipped for instrument flight as well.

To request a Special VFR clearance at a Class B airport, contact Approach Control if you're in the air or Clearance Delivery if you're on the ground. If traffic permits, ATC can clear you into the airspace under Special VFR. However, if aircraft are using instrument approach procedures for the airport, you won't be cleared.

Swayne Martin

Class B Speed Restrictions

There are a few speed restrictions that you need to know when you're flying in and around Class B airspace. They are:

  • Operating below 10,000 feet MSL
  • Operating under Class B airspace
  • Operating in a VFR corridor in Class B airspace
Boldmethod

Below 10,000 Feet MSL: If you're below 10,000 feet MSL, you can't go faster than 250 kts, but it has nothing to do with Class B airspace. Any flight below 10,000 feet MSL is restricted to 250 kts or less. There are certain cases where it's even less than 250 kts, but we'll get to that in a bit.

There's one exception to the 250 knot rule: if your aircraft's minimum safe speed is faster than 250 kts, ATC will allow you to go faster. Good examples of this are probably the SR-71 and Space Shuttle, and unfortunately, not your Cessna 172.

SuperJet International

Flying Under Class B Airspace: If you're flying under Class B airspace (the dark blue area), you need to keep your speed throttled back to 200 kts or below. You don't need to talk to Air Traffic Control to fly here, you just need to keep your speed down. Why do you need to fly slow? Again, it's to make sure ATC can keep traffic at a safe distance from the jets flying into and out of Class B airports.

Swayne Martin

VFR Corridor in Class B Airspace: If you're flying through a VFR corridor in Class B airspace, you need to keep your speed at 200 kts or below.

What's a VFR corridor? It's a 'hole' in Class B airspace that VFR airplanes can fly through without talking to ATC. In the example above, if you're in the corridor, you need to keep your speed down to 200 kts or lower.

Equipment Requirements

There are two pieces of equipment that you need to have on board to fly in Class B airspace:

  • Two-way radio
  • Mode-C transponder

The radio lets you talk to ATC (obviously), and the transponder lets them track your position and altitude on radar.

Boldmethod

Student Pilot Restrictions

There's one more thing to keep in mind when you're operating in Class B airspace: in general, you need to be at least a private pilot to enter the airspace. Student, sport and recreational pilots can enter specific Class B airspaces, but only after they receive training and an endorsement from an instructor.

Even with the endorsement, there are certain Class B airports that prohibit students. Here's the list of the "No Student Pilot" airports from the Aeronautical Information Manual, as of April 2014:

  • Andrews Air Force Base, MD
  • Atlanta Hartsfield Airport, GA
  • Boston Logan Airport, MA
  • Chicago O'Hare Int'l Airport, IL
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Int'l Airport, TX
  • Los Angeles Int'l Airport, CA
  • Miami Int'l Airport, FL
  • Newark Int'l Airport, NJ
  • New York Kennedy Airport, NY
  • New York La Guardia Airport, NY
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, DC
  • San Francisco Int'l Airport, CA
Boldmethod

Easy Enough, Right?

Flying into Class B airspace for the first time can be stressful. But if you've never done it before, just grab a local instructor and have them show you how its done. Since you're in highly controlled airspace, you'll be held to a higher standard than you might be used to. If you're not arriving into a Class B airport, flying through Class B airspace isn't too challenging, especially once you understand why all of the requirements exist.

Looking For More Info?

Want to learn more about airspace? Try our National Airspace System online course. With tons of quizzes and simple explanations, it's an easy (and awesome) way to get ready for your next checkride or flight review.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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