March 4, 2014
By Dan Namowitz
Nearing an area of Class C airspace astride your VFR cross-country course, you ponder a decision: Climb above its ceiling to maintain your direct line of flight, or skirt the airspace to one side?
There's another option—one that your flight instructor may have been encouraging you to employ: Establish communications with the approach control facility and fly through the airspace.
What's the best call for today's flight? Scattered higher clouds make the "climb above its ceiling" option undesirable. Flying an end run around the airspace seems complicated and wasteful of time and fuel. So you give approach a call at the checkpoint specified on your sectional chart—and are pleased when ATC responds with your N-number, a transponder code, and, shortly after that, the words, "Radar contact."
ATC's next words take you somewhat by surprise: Although the airport on which the airspace rests is abuzz with traffic, the approach controller requests that you "proceed through the area, cross midfield."
On this particular day the controller wants you to fly directly over the airport, perhaps at a specified altitude, and perhaps because it’s a better way to keep you clear of the airport’s most active arrival and departure paths. In any case, your confidence dealing with the situation comes from having studied the sectional chart, and made it a point to review the equipment and communications requirements for "arrival and through flights" for the airspace. (You also are pleased to have passed your instructor’s flash quiz that asked whether the requirement for a Mode C transponder applies above the Class C airspace. It does, up to 10,000 feet.)
What happens once you exit the Class C airspace? That, too, offers a number of scenarios: It may be possible to continue with radar flight following as you pass from one ATC facility’s airspace into another’s. Or you may be instructed to "squawk 1200," the VFR code, and possibly given a radio frequency for later use to contact another radar facility farther along your course.
A very convenient feature of routes where radar flight following is available from takeoff to touchdown is that your communications requirement for Class C airspace is met as soon as you are handed off to the appropriate controlling facility and establish two-way communications. Note that for Class B airspace, that is not the case. An ATC clearance must be obtained before operating in the airspace.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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