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How Flying An Unfamiliar Aircraft Led To A Class C Airspace Violation


As pilots build flight time, it's typical to begin flying many different kinds of airplanes. That's a really good thing, because it allows you to develop and refine flying skills across aircraft that handle noticeably differently.

In the long run, your skills will certainly improve through flying many types of aircraft. However, in the short term, it's typical to experience difficulty adjusting to a new make and model. This can result in some pretty uncomfortable situations...

The Story...Pulled From A NASA Safety Report

My employer and I departed VFR in an aircraft our company just acquired to ferry it to our home base. We were concerned about arriving back [home] after sunset, not wanting to land an unfamiliar airplane at night after a long cross country flight, so I felt rushed in preparing to depart. I filed an IFR flight plan via ForeFlight prior to departure, received an expected route, and entered it into the aircraft avionics (Garmin Perspective system) prior to takeoff. A local CFI advised us to depart VFR, proceed southbound, and pick up our IFR clearance enroute, so we did. I engaged the autopilot in heading mode on approximately 180 heading and set it to climb to our planned cruising altitude of 11,000 feet. I knew we were clear of the nearby Class C airspace at that point.


My employer, an instrument rated private pilot, was in the right seat but not handling the controls. Either he or I (I cannot recall which) brought up the "Climb" checklist on the MFD. Although we operate three aircraft in our fleet with G1000 systems, neither of us were very familiar with the checklist function, and neither of us have significant time in this make and model. This was my third flight in the type, and I had only about three hours in it at that time, mostly doing pattern work learning to land it. We did not have the moving map display up, and I did not have a chart in view (current charts were aboard in ForeFlight on my iPad and iPhone, but neither were in view in this phase of flight).


Shortly after initiating the climb, I selected "Direct To" our initial waypoint and set the autopilot into NAV mode to track us there as we climbed. We completed the climb checklist in the system and figured out how to exit it to map view. I realized then I had entered the Class C airspace in the climb. Flustered, I disengaged the autopilot, reduced power and turned west to exit the airspace as quickly as possible while tuning the approach frequency. Once clear of the Charlie airspace, I turned roughly south again and contacted approach for our IFR clearance.


Concluding this report, the pilot left the following message, one which we can all learn from...

In departing near Class C airspace without a navigation chart or moving map in view, I lost situational awareness while trying to figure out complicated and unfamiliar avionics in an equally complicated and unfamiliar aircraft and area. Realizing that lapse in awareness could have been catastrophic to other pilots and their passengers shook and humbled me. I should have spent more time on the ground gaining familiarity with the various MFD functions and screens before departing, and at the very least should have had my navigation charts in view to confirm my location prior to entering controlled airspace. I should also have briefed our route to my employer, paying particular attention to nearby airspace, to ensure all pilots aboard were considering airspace and necessary procedures as a backup.

It's An Easy Mistake To Make

You might be thinking "I would've been more aware of the Class C airspace nearby." In reality, the mistake this pilot made was an extremely easy one to make. Add together an unfamiliar airplane with complex avionics and unfamiliar airspace, and this airspace violation was just waiting to happen.

No pilot ever thinks they'll be the one to violate controlled airspace, but it happens anyways. Why? For reasons just like these.

Geoff Collins

What You Can Do

There's obviously no magic way to jump from 0 hours in a new airplane to being a systems expert. Every pilot goes through a transition period where they're new to the airplane they fly. So what exactly can you do? The simple answer is plan ahead.

These pilots pressured themselves into leaving before sunset to avoid flying at night in unfamiliar airspace. Seem like a logical idea, right? They thought "let's not make this situation worse by adding darkness." To a certain extent that makes sense, but there are some holes in the logic.


Most noticeably, they probably didn't get enough time to plan their route and take airspace boundaries into consideration. Time pressure is commonly a factor in cases like this. If they had planned to leave earlier, taken the time to plan out a night flight, or just left the next day, this airspace violation could have been avoided.

Additionally, as the pilot admitted, neither pilot was familiar with the MFD checklist feature of the Cirrus SR22. Taking more time to learn how to use the systems could have prevented their airspace incursion. Simply put, spending more time on the ground preparing could have prevent the incident from ever happening.

What do you think? How would you fix a situation like this? Tell us in the comments below.

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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, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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