Flying into Class B for the First Time

If you are anticipating flying into Class B airspace for the first time, not to worry. The procedures ATC uses inside of Class B are nearly identical to those used in other classes of airspace. The subtle variations in procedure will most likely be unnoticeable to you.

What may jump out at you is the pacing of transmissions on the radio. Class B airspace is installed to separate and contain large amounts of fast-moving traffic, i.e. airliners, from slower moving light aircraft outside the airspace. Even so, Class B structures in the U.S. will accommodate light general aviation aircraft flying IFR, with a reservation (prior permission) to enter.

Different Paths for Different Weights

Whether you will be flying a light aircraft or a medium twin-engine aircraft, you can expect to fly into and depart Class B on a path that keeps you well separated from the flow of fast-moving airliners. Most fast movers enter Class B from the top of the airspace and then rapidly descend once inside the structure. Light and medium aircraft generally enter or exit the airspace through one of its side walls at altitudes lower than those used by the big jets.

As you can imagine, ATC’s biggest challenge when handling your light or medium aircraft inside of Class Bravo is mixing your relatively low-speed aircraft into the flow of the faster moving airliners. When the underlying airport has many runways, such as Chicago O’Hare international, mixing you into the flow is less challenging. You will likely be assigned to land on or depart from a runway not in use by the airlines. At airports where the runway availability is limited, such as New York LaGuardia’s 2-runway layout, you will likely be directed into a short approach to the active runway. When departing a location like LaGuardia, expect clearance for a quick turnout away from the general flow of airline traffic. What you should not expect is to be placed in a long line of arriving fast-moving jets. Your speed difference, (read that as slow speed), would simply not mix well with the speeds of airliners on approach.

If you plan to fly into Class B in a business jet, you may be placed in line with the big boys as long as your jet can fly in the 200 to 250 knot range. Even then, you may be inserted on a shorter final approach than the airliners simply to get you in and out of the way as quickly as possible.

No matter what you fly, expect ATC to direct you to “descend without delay” or make a “slam dunk” descent as airline pilots call it. Although Class Bravo looks huge on paper, it actually covers a relatively small amount of real estate, considering the speed of the aircraft operating inside of it. ATC, with a few exceptions, must keep IFR traffic contained within the small airspace, which means issuing frequent heading changes and rapid descents. None of this may happen to you, but it pays to be prepared for this type of handling.

Fast Paced Radios

At the outset I said one of the things that may surprise you when working in Class Bravo is the pace of operations on the radio. With so much traffic packed into a small area, ATC will necessarily have to issue many clearances in short periods of time. The tendency for controllers and pilots under these circumstances is to talk rapidly. Speed talking, as I’ve discussed elsewhere is counterproductive. Though it seems as though talking fast would accomplish more on the radio in a given interval, speed talking can lead to misunderstanding and errors.

I’m going to tell you to not talk rapidly on the radio despite what you hear others doing. I’ll tell you that but I’m not confident you’ll follow my advice in the heat of the moment. It takes a lot of self-control to rein in your rate of speech when everyone else is talking like auctioneers on the frequency. The effect is similar to one panicked steer causing the herd to stampede. Once the herd is rampaging it’s hard to slow it down. Like any stampede, the potential for miscues and injury increase as the chaos increases. The key to overcoming the herd mentality is to be self-aware when talking on the radio. Try to make an intentional effort to pace yourself and stay calm on the radio. Strive for a relaxed conversational pace no matter what you hear others doing.

Don’t Rush

A couple more items to wrap it up. When landing or departing from an airport in Class B, don’t let ATC cause you to rush. Often, the tower controller will want you to get on or off the runway as quickly as possible so he can sequence the next aircraft in right behind you.

Don’t let ATC’s sense of urgency cause you to fly an approach so fast that you float halfway down the runway. Don’t let him talk you into making a turn off of the runway after landing before you are down to a safe taxi speed. From personal experience, I know you can blow a tire by romping on the brakes striving to make a runway exit you cannot make at your current groundspeed.

Finally, watch out for wake turbulence. ATC will use prescribed separation to try and keep you out of the wake of heavier aircraft in front of you. The separation standards for wake usually work. Sometimes they don’t. Ask your flight instructor or another pilot who is very experienced in Class B operations about how to avoid wake turbulence even when ATC is doing its best to keep you out of it.

Those are the highlights of operating in Class B airspace. The clearances ATC issues sound identical to those used in other classes of airspace. You’ll find the most noticeable difference is in pacing. Radio transmissions are almost non-stop and the pacing is quicker. If you are prepared for that, maintain situational awareness, and fly the aircraft as it was designed to fly, you’ll be fine.

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