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Flying Below Class B: Does An ATC Speed Instruction Trump Regulations?

If you were told to "maintain 250 knots" below Class B airspace, what would you do?

Report: Flying Under New York Class B Airspace

It's no secret that there are a lot of rules and restrictions when it comes to flying around busy airspace. This experienced, ATP-rated, corporate jet captain filed a NASA ASRS report for mistakenly breaking a regulation and questioning ATC's rationale. What would you do?

New York (N90) TRACON consistently asks for aircraft to maintain above 200 knots below the shelf of the New York Class B. In this case we were asked to maintain 250 knots. I have also been asked to maintain 210 knots or greater below the Class B. This creates a conflict between violating 14 CFR 91.117(c) or telling ATC you are unable, which will most likely upset the controller, jam up the frequency, and create bigger issues.


Speed Restrictions In/Around Class B Airspace

There isn't a specific speed restriction for operating in Class B airspace. If you're below 10,000 feet, you need to meet the standard speed restriction of 250 knots. However, if you're in Class B at 10,000' MSL or higher, you can fly faster than 250 knots (though ATC usually restricts aircraft speed for traffic flow and separation).

Most Class B airspace ends at 10,000' MSL, so this isn't much of a factor. However, some Class B airspace extends higher, like Denver's Class B, which extends up to 12,000' MSL.

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But what happens if you're under a Class B shelf, and not in Class B airspace itself?

According to 91.117(c), "no person may operate an aircraft in the airspace underlying a Class B airspace area designated for an airport or in a VFR corridor designated through such a Class B airspace area, at an indicated airspeed of more than 200 knots (230 mph)."

This is done to help separate aircraft operating within Class B from those operating outside of Class B. Some aircraft flying below Class B may not be in contact with ATC, and the speed restriction of 200 knots provides ATC an added buffer to get traffic out of the way, should an airspace deviation occur.

Does An ATC Instruction Change The Regulation?

In the example above, ATC issued speed instructions exceeding the regulatory requirement of 91.117(c). Because of this, many pilots have debated if a cleared instruction makes the excess speed legal.

We took a look at FAA Order 7110.65, which is the "rule book" for air traffic controllers, to find out more. In 5-7-3(b) it says, "to aircraft operating beneath Class B airspace or in a VFR corridor designated through Class B airspace: assign a speed not more than 200 knots."

In 91.117(b), the speed restriction around Class C and D is prefaced with "unless otherwise authorized or required by ATC." This phrase is not used regarding speeds under the shelf of Class B airspace, nor is an exemption found in Order 7110.65.

Based on this, the answer is "no". You cannot fly faster than 200 knots under a Class B airspace shelf. Just like pilots, controllers make mistakes, and this controller likely forgot the regulation.

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What Can You Do?

If this happens to you, the most conservative thing you can do is say "unable." If you're asked why, remind ATC that you're below Class B airspace and the speed limit is 200 knots.

Controllers aren't out to catch you, and they make mistakes too.

That being said, know the regulations and always back yourself up by filing a NASA ASRS report if you make a mistake.

Has anything like this ever happened to you? Tell us in the comments below.

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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