If air traffic control is “following” your flight, who is leading it?
You are—and there are times when it pays to keep that in mind while receiving VFR traffic advisories, also known as flight following, from an ATC facility such as a terminal radar approach control (tracon).
The Class D airspace ceiling up ahead is 2,800 feet msl, and you were planning to overfly it at 3,500 feet eastbound. But an overcast in the area is lower than was forecast, so you are approaching the Class D airspace boundary at 2,000 feet to maintain VFR conditions.
Is your flight authorized to proceed through the Class D airspace?
This isn’t Class B airspace, which you would not fly through without receiving specific clearance into the airspace.
It isn’t Class C airspace, which requires you to establish two-way communications—a step you have already taken.
This is Class D airspace, and you remember learning that “when arriving, departing, or passing through Class D airspace, communications must be established with the tower.”
Today, however, you are already in contact with ATC in the person of the tracon’s radar controller, who has issued no cautions about your imminent penetration of the Class D airspace ahead. Does that suffice as the required two-way communications?
No. The catch is that the tracon is not the controlling agency for the Class D airspace. This is an odd scenario—and fortunately, an uncommon one—in which it is necessary for the VFR pilot to work with two ATC facilities simultaneously.
Typically, the radar controller will work out your passage with the tower, according to controller Joseph Mash, who addressed the issue in this AOPA Air Safety Institute Ask ATC video.
But if you have any doubt, take charge by asking whether you should switch frequencies and call the tower.
"It’s the best way to handle it for sure,” Mash said.
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