Ask an Air Traffic Controller: Breaking Down Barriers

M.T. an air traffic controller with more than 30 years of experience, talks to you about life at the other end of your aircraft radio. In this audio series, he’ll answer questions and tell stories about how an air traffic control center helps you safely fly from A to B.

In this first episode:

  • Explore the relationship between air traffic controllers and pilots, especially low-time and student pilots.
  • You will hear why air traffic controllers really want to talk to you as you fly, even if you are out for a Sunday drive under Visual Flight Rules.
  • I think, by the time this first talk ends, you will feel differently about air traffic control, especially if you have felt hesitant to contact ATC in the past.

Post-Show Notes:

Good episode? Know what’s missing? You. In future episodes, M.T. will answer your questions, not mine; but you have to ask to get an answer. Write your questions in the comment box below, or write to me directly at

Next show:

We’ll role play initial contact with ATC for VFR flight following.
How ATC can help a pilot who becomes lost.
Answers to your questions.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

John Gilbert April 22, 2011 at 7:44 pm


Thank you for this website!! I am just starting out in my flight training (all 12 hours of it so far), and my primary field is pilot controlled. So far, I haven’t actually talked to anyone in any ATC capacity. Frankly, its a little scary – I understand what is said, I am just unsure as to what I need to be saying.

I live near a city with a major airport, and will encounter ATC sooner rather than later. So, I consider these podcasts and the simulator a necessary part of my training.

After listening to this podcast, I do feel better about calling ATC, and using it as a service. I am still not sure how the script goes, but I’ll take care of that as I go along. Hopefully, your exercises and examples will fill in those gaps in my knowledge.

Thanks again!


JeffKanarish April 22, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Hey John,

Thank you for your kind comments. You will get the script down in time. Everyone does. It just takes practice. In the meantime, if you need information for your particular situation, and I haven’t provided it at the website, just ask. I’m an email, a comment, or a voice message away.

Also, if you haven’t done so, consider taking a minute to comment on the Aircraft Radio Simulator over at the Insider’s page. Any comment or question at the Insider’s page will enter you in the drawing for the Plantronics computer headset.

Thanks again for your feedback.



Phil May 9, 2020 at 6:33 am

Question —> can l still request VFR flight-following even though l am not ADS-B equipped yet ?


JeffKanarish May 9, 2020 at 2:10 pm


Yes, you may. ATC isn’t using ADS-B yet for any air traffic control service. However, you must remain clear of any airspace in which the FAA has made ADS-B Out mandatory. Don’t ask me how the FAA will ensure compliance since ATC isn’t using ADS-B as of 5/9/20.


Aaron D October 21, 2020 at 9:24 am


I am Deaf and a mathematician! I have enjoyed airplanes ever since I was a young child. I am wondering if I can work in the air tower center, not necessarily giving orders to pilots but doing mathematics behind the scenes?


JeffKanarish November 11, 2020 at 12:24 pm


Sorry for the slow reply.

I’m not sure. I don’t see why not since working on air traffic control software should be possible regardless of the ability to hear. As far as I know, there is no requirement for mathematicians to work directly in an air traffic control facility. However, I imagine the FAA would have requirements for computer programmers and perhaps those who can apply their skillset to computer science. You might inquire directly to the FAA at




Mark November 11, 2020 at 10:07 am

I hope this is where I can ask a question or two. First, I was on an IFR flight plan at 11,000 feet going from Florida to North Carolina. I filed to avoid going through Charlottes airspace but there were thunderstorms moving in from the west so ask the controller if I could deviate right to avoid them and he said no I had to remain clear of the class bravo. technically I was over top of the class bravo vertical limit so I don’t understand and according to the ADS-B there was no traffic anywhere close to me. Any thoughts? If I where VFR I could have flown over them at 11,500 without even talking to them.


JeffKanarish November 11, 2020 at 12:54 pm


Yes. When flying VFR, you are free to fly anywhere you wish, without controller approval or even contacting ATC, as long as you remain clear of controlled or restricted airspace. That includes the right to overfly Class B while VFR. Controllers are required to say, “Remain clear of the Class Bravo” any time VFR traffic is in the vicinity of that airspace. That doesn’t mean you can’t overfly the Class Bravo, it’s just a required response from the controller. They also discourage overflight for the following reasons:

While VFR aircraft are perfectly legal to overfly Class B, when they do so, it adds to a controller’s stress level. Airliners usually enter and exit Class B through the top, not the sides. They do so usually in the range of 250 to 330 knots (at or above 10,000 MSL). They are terrible at making sudden, large course changes to avoid a traffic conflict. This is due to their large turn radii and low G restrictions. When a light aircraft crosses a line of inbound and outbound airliners, it’s like a pedestrian crossing an 8-lane divided highway of fully loaded semi trucks. This is just insight, not a legal argument for or against.

I don’t know if you have ADS-B In/Out. If not, I’m sure you are aware ADS-B In-only does not show all traffic within its envelope. The explanation as to why is long and more than I care to get into here.

To sum up, yes, you may overfly Class B in the same way you may fly over or around any controlled airspace. Controllers discourage it due to the incompatibility of light aircraft mixing in with fast, low maneuverability airliners. If you have more questions or would like to discuss this further, I’m reachable at




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