Aviation Communications - Class B Airspace

Class B Airspace Communications

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Class B airspace is without a doubt the busiest airspace you will encounter under normal circumstances. Why under normal circumstances? Because for the first week in august every year, Oshkosh, Wisconsin becomes the busiest airport in the world, and it is a class D.

Because of the congestion in class B airspace, student solo is restricted. In some of the busiest class B areas, student solo is not permitted at all. It is wise for students in the vicinity of these airports to practice with an instructor on board the aircraft anytime they will be entering the class B area, and to fly clear of this airspace for the majority of their practice. There is no doubt that any student who solos in class B will certainly have difficulty at some point. This can be a tough area even for a rated pilot, much less a student. A student must have an endorsement in his or her logbook before solo flight in any class B airspace. This endorsement is an authorization to practice and it certainly does not mean that the student will not have problems in this airspace because they certainly will at some point and anyone who says otherwise is denying facts.

The easiest way for a low time pilot to learn class B procedures is while practicing outside the limits, below one of the shelves, to be monitoring the approach control frequency. Another effective way for a student or low time pilot to gain experience in these communications is to utilize the service of flight following. Listen to what other pilots are saying to the controllers, and listen well to what the controllers say to them. Class B airspace should not be feared, but the procedures must be learned before flight into the airspace is attempted.

I know a VFR pilot who once planned an over-flight of a class B area at an altitude of eleven thousand five hundred feet just to avoid communications. Was this wise? Not really, he was setting himself up for other problems just because he was not comfortable with communications in such a busy area. At eleven thousand five hundred feet a pilot who is not instrument rated is very likely to become disoriented and fall victim to the problems associated with spatial disorientation, not to mention hypoxia, which would compound the effects of spatial disorientation.

The most common problem for a low-time pilot is poor flight planning. He or she is flying along happy-go-lucky, and as the class B area is neared it suddenly becomes apparent that the necessary frequencies are unknown, and the pilot has forgotten to include an AF/D (see figure 2) as part of the essential flight materials. The AF/D is the easiest place to find the proper frequency. All you have to do is look up the approach frequency for the closest airport to your position. Unlike a class C area where the approach control frequencies are in a white box with a magenta border (see figure 11), class B approach frequencies are not depicted on VFR sectional charts. This is due to the fact that it is recommended that you carry a TAC (Terminal Area Chart) and an AF/D when planning a VFR flight to any class B area; these materials provide excellent detail, frequencies, and other important airport information. In any case, if you do not have the proper information readily available, you should avoid the class B airspace.

Class B airspace is shaped like that of a multi-tier wedding cake turned upside down. The upper limit of class B airspace is usually 10,000 feet MSL. The surface area can vary, but is usually a 5-mile radius around the primary airport. This airspace has numerous shelves with varying boundary shapes and lower altitude limits. A solid blue border on VFR sectional charts identifies the boundary of class B airspace. Also surrounding class B airspace in a 30 nautical mile radius from the primary airport is the mode-C/S ring. This mode-C/S ring is depicted by a solid, but narrow magenta line on VFR sectional charts.

Unlike Class D and C airspace, you must have a specific clearance to enter any class B airspace. If you are VFR, the controller must state to you:

“….cleared into class bravo airspace.” If you do not hear this you must not enter the class B airspace. If there is any doubt, ask the controller for verification of the clearance.

“Verify Cessna five seven five two echo cleared into class bravo airspace please.”


If you are a VFR pilot you should plan so that your initial call is completed at least 30 miles out. An IFR pilot is already in the system so his or her entry into the class B airspace is of no concern; it is just another hand-off. Establishing radio contact from a distance of 30 miles gives the controller plenty of time to accept you into the class B area without it becoming necessary for you to descend below a shelf or to circle to stay outside of the area.

It is important to note that some class B areas are now known as enhanced class B areas, which means that you must be in contact with approach control anytime you are within the boundaries of the mode-c ring regardless of altitude. This designation is subject to change in a moments notice, and the information is available by NOTAM from Flight Service or by telephone to the controlling facility.

If the airspace is an enhanced class B area, radio contact is mandatory before passing the mode-C veil, and this is radio contact as defined in class D and C airspace. It is not necessary that you be “cleared” beyond the veil, only that you establish radio contact, but it is still necessary that you be “cleared” into the class B airspace. Note that the mode-C veil is not the same as the class B airspace.

To the IFR pilot, contacting the approach controller is no problem. The controller will be expecting his or her call because this pilot is already “in the system”. The approach controller has already spoken to the center controller currently handling the IFR pilot.

An IFR call up would be as follows, keeping in mind that the controller will be expecting you to state the proper ATIS on your initial call-up. Not only will the controller be expecting you to report the current ATIS, but he or she may not talk to you again until you report that you have obtained it. It just depends upon how busy the controller is, and his or her mood. If the controller is not busy, and does not mind doing for you what you should have already done your self as the pilot, he or she may give you the ATIS information.

It is important to get the runways in use when you listen to the ATIS. Make use of your note pad, and write down what you hear and then make your call. This is an IFR call after a hand-off from Center.

“Tampa approach, Centurion two seven three yankee foxtrot, level six thousand, bravo.”

Six thousand is the altitude you are at, and bravo is the current ATIS. If you were in a decent at the time of your call-up you might say:

“Tampa approach centurion two seven three yankee foxtrot four thousand descending three thousand, bravo.”

A VFR initial call-up is quite different; the controller is not expecting your call. Don’t give a bunch of information on your initial call that the controller is not ready for. It should be simple, just who you are.

“Tampa approach, skyhawk five niner two one alpha.”

With this call the controller knows that you are out there wanting to talk to him or her, and the controller also knows you are VFR. Even if you are trying to pick up an IFR clearance, you are still VFR until you receive it, and you must maintain VFR flight conditions. The controller will deal with his or her necessary IFR duties and then call you back. There could be several different responses from the controller.

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, Tampa approach.”

At this time the controller is ready for your request. Be brief but accurate and tell him or her where you are including distance, your altitude, what you want to do, and be as accurate as possible.

“Five niner two one alpha thirty five miles northeast, level six thousand five hundred, landing Tampa International.”

Now the controller knows who you are, where you are, and what you want to do. If you have been tracking a VOR, you should tell the controller the radial and distance if you have DME.

“Five niner two one alpha four two miles on the St Pete zero four zero radial, level six thousand five hundred, landing Tampa International.”

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, Tampa approach, squawk three seven four six and ident.”

Just receiving a squawk code does not clear you into class B airspace. You must be cleared in if you are VFR. IFR pilots are already in the system and don’t need a specific clearance to enter.

“Three seven four six, five niner two one alpha.”

Do not say “ident”, or “indenting” in your read back. When the controller asks you to ident, you just press the ident button on the face of the transponder one time. Never ident unless asked by the controller to do so. Never say “identing” anywhere in your response to the controller, it is not necessary.

A busy controller may say:

“Five niner two one alpha standby”, or “calling Tampa, standby.”

When the controller tells you to standby, it means that he or she is busy, very busy, and the radio is congested. Do not respond with something like:

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha standing by.”

The controller knows you are standing by, that is what you were just told to do. Also it does not mean for you to squawk standby on the transponder. If the controller wants you to squawk standby he or she will say so.

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, squawk standby.”

After the controller has you fixed on radar he or she will call you.

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha is radar contact thirty one miles northeast of Tampa International cleared into class bravo airspace, descend and maintain two thousand five hundred.”

The controller could ask you to climb or descend to another altitude, or ask you to descend and remain at or below a specific altitude. In any case you must maintain VFR flight conditions. You should remember that in class B airspace, VFR means 3 miles visibility and clear of clouds.

Keep in mind that there are reasons for any altitude change assignments. You may be about to cross the approach path of an IFR aircraft, which has a specific decent profile. A controller rarely asks you to climb or descend for no reason at all. If you do not wish to climb or descend, then you can expect a turn to keep you away from whatever traffic you are about to interfere with.

It is always possible that the controller may give you your squawk code and tell you to remain clear of class bravo airspace.

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, Tampa approach, squawk three seven four six, remain clear of class bravo airspace.”

If you are too close at that time your only choice is to either descend below a shelf, or to circle where you are. Obviously neither is what you want, but the fact that you were issued a squawk is an indication that you will soon receive your clearance. It would not be surprising at a busy period in a class bravo, to have to circle for thirty minutes awaiting your sequencing. Remember you are VFR, and low on the priority list. Even IFR aircraft have to enter holding patterns and circle at times, and in extreme cases they may circle for hours.

As you proceed inbound to the airport you will receive vectors and altitude changes. You will also receive frequency changes as you pass into the sectors controlled by others (see figure 14). Some class B airports at their busy times will have a final approach controller who controls all traffic in a radius slightly larger than that of the tower. In this case when you call the final approach controller you may address him or her as such.

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha contact Tamp final one one eight point five, good day.”

“Eighteen five, two one alpha, good day”, or “one one eight point five, two one alpha, good day sir.”

“Tampa final, Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, level three thousand.”

If you knew what your frequency was going to be you might have already tuned it on your number two radio. Of course it is really nice if you have a pair of flip-flop radios so you can have four frequencies stored at one time. A common mistake is to tune the new frequency on a flip-flop, or your number 2 radio, but forget to change the switch as needed. Don’t feel too embarrassed when the controller calls you back and says:

“Your still with center”, or “flip the switch”, or “Don’t you hate it when you forget to flip the switch”? The controllers do have a sense of humor.

There are of course those occasions when the controller will give you a whole mouth full of instructions with your frequency change.

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, Tampa, descend maintain four thousand, turn right heading three five zero, contact final one one eight point five.”

“Four thousand, three five zero, eighteen five, two one alpha”.

After tuning your radio:

“Tampa final, Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, out of five thousand two hundred descending four thousand, heading three five zero.”

You can omit the heading information if you choose. If it is pertinent that you give the next controller the heading information the previous controller will usually tell you to do so. You must report to the new controller, the altitude you are leaving and the altitude you are descending to if you are between two assigned altitudes, however there will be times where the same controller issues one altitude change quickly followed by another, in that case you might only state the altitude that you are descending to.

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, Tampa, descend maintain four thousand.”

“Four thousand, two one alpha.”

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, descend maintain three thousand.”

“Three thousand, two one alpha.”

On occasions you will get an altitude that doesn’t seem right, it doesn’t coincide with the minimums depicted on your chart. This is because in the radar controlled environment the normal MEA’s and OCA’s stated on charts etc. are out the window so to speak.

Another example of a long clearance:

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, Tampa, descend maintain two thousand six hundred, turn right ten degrees, contact final on one one eight point five and inform him of your new heading.”

“Two thousand six hundred, ten right, eighteen five, two one alpha.”

Supposing you were flying along at three thousand feet, and you got the above instruction; you will only have to descend four hundred feet and you will likely be there by the time you make your call. You could simply delay your call a couple of seconds until you were there. If you are within about 200 feet of your altitude, whether you are climbing or descending, when it is time to make your call you should respond with “leveling”.

“Tampa final, Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, two thousand six hundred, heading zero six zero”. Or “Tampa final Skyhawk five niner two one Alpha leveling two thousand six hundred, heading zero six zero.”

“Good evening Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, Tampa final, plan runway one eight left at Tampa International.”

“One eight left, two one alpha, good evening sir.”

As you approach the airport you will be given vectors and altitudes as needed for spacing and sequencing. As the airspace becomes more and more congested with all the aircraft approaching the airport, the controller will keep you advised of the location of traffic passing above and below you, or within a certain distance of you. It is important to recognize the value in letting the controller know as soon as practical after you have spotted the traffic he or she has warned you about. Most importantly you want to make the controller aware that you received his or her transmission.

A traffic advisory sequence:

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, Tampa, traffic passing over head from right to left, a Boeing seven three seven, out of six thousand descending four thousand for the right side.”

“Looking for traffic, two one alpha, thank you”, or “Tally ho” if you have the traffic in sight, or “No joy” If you do not have the traffic in sight or, “looking, two one alpha.” Numerous responses are possible and acceptable. Just remember proper phraseology and politeness.

If there is traffic approaching the airport that the controller wants you to follow inbound, you won’t get your approach clearance until you report that traffic in sight, or until there is enough spacing between you so that traffic is no longer a safety issue. If you report the traffic in sight you can maintain a closer visual separation than the controller can allow if you don’t see it. Reporting the traffic insight early could save you doing a three sixty, or making S-turns on final for spacing.

It is also important to report the airport in sight as soon as you see it. Unless there is conflicting traffic you will likely be cleared for the approach soon after you report “airport insight.” Even if you are a long distance out when you report the airport, you will likely be given a much more direct approach than if you don’t see it.

“Tampa final, Skyhawk five niner two one alpha has the airport in sight.”

When you are close to the airport and clear of conflicting traffic you will be given the approach clearance, assuming visual conditions of course.

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, Tampa final, cleared visual approach runway one eight left.”

“Cleared visual approach one eight left, two one alpha.”

When you are cleared for the visual approach you may turn and descend as needed to get to your assigned runway. If you were at three thousand feet when you were given your clearance you can descend at your discretion to the proper pattern altitude. If there is no additional traffic to contend with, you can fly direct to the numbers (on the runway). If there is traffic on final and the controller wants to ensure separation, he may say:

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, Tampa, square your turn to final, cleared visual approach runway one eight left.”

Obviously this means to fly a normal right angle pattern to final with out a diagonal shortcut to the numbers.

If you are IFR, you may be given your intercept heading and approach clearance ten to fifteen miles from the airport.

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, Tampa final, turn left heading two six zero, intercept the localizer, maintain two thousand two hundred until established, cleared ILS one eight left approach.”

“Two six zero for the localizer, two thousand two hundred until established, cleared ILS one eight left approach, two one alpha”, or if it is really busy and you need to shorten your call, “two six zero, two thousand two hundred ‘til established, cleared approach, two one alpha”.

Either will work, but the first is more proper. There are times when the radio congestion is so bad that it is necessary to get the point across with no unnecessary words.

Shortly after you get your approach clearance, and after you are stable and tracking inbound on the localizer, but usually after you are inside the outer marker, you will be handed off to the tower.

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, contact tower one one niner point five, good day.”

“Tower now, two one alpha, good day.”

You need not repeat the frequency, just acknowledge that you are going to the tower. The only time you need to repeat the frequency for the tower handoff is if you are not sure of the frequency. After you tune to the tower wait a few seconds to ensure that the waves are clear and then:

“Tampa tower, Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, runway one eight left.”

From here on in you are with the tower until you clear the runway. At some point during your final approach, you will be given a clearance to land.

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, cleared to land runway one eight left.”

“Cleared to land runway one eight left, two one alpha.”

You must not land until you have received your landing clearance; never just assume you are cleared to land. You can always call at the last minute, but preferably sooner, and say:

“Verify Skyhawk five niner two one alpha cleared to land.”

Usually the controller is very friendly and will respond with:

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha cleared to land.”

There will be times when the controller gets aggravated with your additional call, and in a case like that, you may hear:

“For the second time, Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, cleared to land runway one eight left.”

Never let the thought of an upset controller stop you from verifying any clearance. A moment of hesitation may come when you have been listening to a busy controller snap at other pilots, and it can be hard to make that call. An extra polite tone, or a greeting from you can quickly change the controller’s mood. Of course this works both ways. It is very rare that you find a controller who is short or angry, but when you do, it is usually the same controller (that person’s nature). The majority of controllers are most pleasant and helpful, not to mention forgiving. They are there to help you, not hinder you.

Once you are on the ground, at some point during your rollout, the tower controller will call you with a taxiway exit instruction, and the frequency change to the ground controller. If it is not busy, the tower controller may want you to stay on his or her frequency for your taxi.

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, exit taxiway uniform, hold short echo, contact ground point seven when clear” (see figure 7).

Two things are important here; you must repeat all hold short instructions and secondly, you must never back taxi a runway at a controlled airport without a clearance to do so, not even for a few feet. If you cannot make the assigned turnoff, call the controller and tell him or her immediately when it is known to you.

“Unable uniform, two one alpha.”

“Roger two one alpha, exit when able, expedite please, I’ve got a seven three seven behind you.”

If you don’t repeat your hold short instruction, the controller will repeat his clearance and or tell you he needs you to read back your clearance. It is in a situation such as this that a controller may get upset if he or she is busy.

It is expected that pilots know that ground frequencies are almost always 121 point something, usually .7, .8, .9. If it is any frequency other than 121, the controller will state the entire frequency. Your response to the above runway exit instruction should be:

“Uniform, hold short echo, two one alpha.”

It is not necessary to say more, now the controller knows you heard him or her. When you are clear of the runway call ground on 121.7 as soon as possible before or during your clean up.

“Tampa ground, Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, clear one eight left at uniform”, or “Tampa ground Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, uniform holding short echo.”

My preference would be the first response, as it leaves no doubt about where you are, and what your direction is (inbound). It may seem as though neither would but when a controller gets busy as they certainly do, it helps if you can make clear where you are, and where you are going, with as little radio time as possible.

If it is a less busy time at the airport, the same controller may be handling all frequencies, and he or she may have everyone using the same frequency. In this case it will usually be the tower frequency. The controller will be broadcasting and listening on all frequencies, but may want specific frequencies used for various operations. Pay attention to the frequencies being assigned to other pilots and you can save a controller considerable time. At these times on your rollout you might get this instruction:

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, exit uniform, to the ramp with me”, or “Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, exit when able this frequency to the ramp.” In either case your response should be:

“With you to the ramp, two one alpha.”

It is not necessary to say more, the controller knows you heard the instruction.

If you are a commercial pilot that frequents the airport, or the controller is familiar with your tail number, you may get instructions such as those mentioned. If you are an unfamiliar aircraft on your rollout the controller will usually say something like:

“Skyhawk five niner two one alpha, say parking.”

You are likely to get this request when you are at an airport with more than one FBO. You should say your parking as early as possible so the controller knows whether you need a left or right exit. Flying the aircraft always comes first though, and for that reason if you get jammed up exit the runway either side and stop. You can then make your taxi requests.

At an airport such as Tampa International, which has only one FBO, the controller will most likely assume that is where you are going. The controllers are usually familiar with the commercial operators on the field, or at least they should be. Part 135 operators usually have unique call signs, frequent the same airports, and the controllers know where they are bound on the field.

Never assume that a controller is familiar with your aircraft just because you are based at the airport, or that the controller will recognize your voice. Also, never broadcast a controllers name over the radio, it is not polite to do so. If you know a controller and you wish to talk to him, do it subtly not, “Hello Bill!”. Don’t put the controller on the spot, put yourself on the spot, “Hello, this is Ralph”. If you know the controller and you wish to talk to him or her, and the radio is not busy, “Hello, is this Bill”? Be courteous give the controller the option.


It is important to make the proper radio call sequence for a class B departure: ATIS, Clearance, Ground, and Tower. You will switch between these frequencies at the proper time without prompting by the controller. Frequency changes are not given by controllers to aircraft on the ground unless it is stated in the ATIS.

Tune and listen to the ATIS; listening to the ATIS before starting your engine is preferable. Write down the important information if for no other reason than practice, making sure to note which ATIS update it is. Also be sure you listen to the NOTAM’s at the end of the broadcast (see ATIS figure 18).

Next tune to Clearance Delivery and listen for a few seconds to be sure the frequency is clear. Keep in mind that all clearances must be read back in their entirety so if the controller has just given someone else their clearance, wait until that pilot has had a chance to read his back before you request yours. An exception to this is if the controller has told the other pilot to stand-by for a moment. The controller in that case may be waiting for the other pilot’s clearance to come through and you can make your request immediately.

“Good morning, Opalocka clearance, Saratoga four three six four echo with Bravo, IFR clearance to Birmingham please.”

You told the controller which ATIS you have, that you are IFR, where you are going; and that is all that is necessary. Be prepared to write down your clearance and do not try to read it back from memory, you will just have to ask the controller to repeat something. Be especially prepared if the controller tells you he or she has a full route clearance. The controller will always say when he or she has a full route for you if that is the case, and he or she will also tell you to advise when you are ready to copy.

“Saratoga four three six four echo, Opalocka, I’ve got a full route for you, advise ready to copy.”

A full route clearance applies to IFR flights with routing changes have been made by the center. A VFR clearance is usually very simple with only a heading, an altitude, and the departure frequency. Always be prepared for the unexpected in your clearance (see figure 19).

A typical clearance exchange:

“Saratoga four three six four echo, cleared to Birmingham via Miami six departure, winco transition as filed, maintain two thousand expect one zero thousand in ten minutes, departure frequency one two eight point six, squawk four five three six”.

“Miami six, winco as filed, two thousand, one zero thousand in ten, one two eight point six, squawk four five three six, Saratoga six four echo”.

A VFR clearance:

“Cessna one eight four niner foxtrot, fly heading three three zero, maintain one thousand five hundred, departure frequency one two six point eight, squawk zero three two six.”

“Heading three three zero, one thousand five hundred, one two six point eight, squawk zero three two six, Cessna four niner foxtrot.”

Another IFR clearance:

“Cessna one three four seven Yankee, cleared to savannah as filed, fly heading zero six zero, maintain one thousand six hundred, departure frequency one three five point five, squawk four five two five.”

“As filed, heading zero six zero, one thousand six hundred, one three five point five, squawk four five two five, Cessna four seven Yankee.”

After you have received your clearance, if you have not started your engine now is the time to do so. You may briefly retune to ATIS making sure it has not changed and then contact the ground controller (don’t forget to listen for a moment to make sure the frequency is clear) and inform him or her that you are ready to taxi.

“Opalocka Ground, Saratoga four three six four echo with bravo, ready to taxi.”

If you do not inform the ground controller that you have the current ATIS, they will surely ask you to verify it. Always be patient with the controllers because sometimes they are on a land phone with center, or busy with other tasks. If you do not get a response after a minute or two, repeat your request. Sometimes the controller will come back with something like this:

“Calling Ground, say again please, I was on a land line.”

The controller will call you back with your taxi instruction and if you are not familiar with the airport, write it down.

“Saratoga four three six four echo, taxi to runway niner left via taxiways november and november six, verify ATIS Bravo” (see figure 6).

Even though you told the controller that you had Bravo, he or she may still asked you to verify it again, this happens sometimes.

“Niner left via november and november six, with bravo, Saratoga six four echo”, or “november and november six to niner left with bravo, Saratoga six four echo.”

At another airport such you might get this instruction:

“Cessna four eight seven charlie echo, Fort Lauderdale Executive ground, taxi to runway two six via taxiways bravo and charlie, hold short runway three one”, or “Cessna four eight seven charlie echo, taxi to runway two six via bravo and charlie.”

“Two six via bravo and charlie, hold short three one, Cessna seven charlie echo”, or “two six via bravo and charlie, Cessna seven charlie echo.”

In the first example, taxi down bravo and turn onto charlie, stopping at the hold short line of runway three one. It is not necessary to tell the controller you are there unless you set there for an extended period of time. You were told to hold short due to landing or departing traffic, and the controller knows you are there unless of course he or she forgets you, which does happen on occasion. If this does happens, kindly remind the controller that you are holding short.

“Exec ground, Cessna seven charlie echo holding short three one.”

In example two, taxi down bravo turning right onto charlie and continue your taxi to the assigned runway.

The FAR/AIM states that when you are issued a taxi clearance as in example two, you are cleared to cross all taxiways and runways to your assigned runway. If there were any doubt at all, this would be a foolish assumption of a clearance. You should call ground as you near the intersection before crossing the hold short line and ask for verification. Runway and taxiway crossing incursions are the number 1 aircraft incident, and the FAA takes it very seriously. Many controllers appreciate this opportunity to verify a runway crossing clearance.

“Verify Cessna seven charlie echo cleared to cross three one please.”

“Affirmative”, or “Cessna four eight seven charlie echo cleared to cross three one, thanks for asking.”

In any case, proceed to the run-up area and complete your checklist. Once your run-up is complete taxi into the departure sequence, or remain at your location and then call the tower and let them know that you are ready for departure. These options depend upon the layout of the run-up area and the traffic. You will not get a call from the ground controller telling you to contact tower unless it was stated so in the ATIS.

When you contact the tower do not tell the controller that you are number one for the runway unless you are the only aircraft out there, or there is absolutely no doubt that you are number one. Many times commercial flights are ready upon their arrival at the runway and do not need a run-up. If this is the case, that pilot may have already called the tower ready to depart. Also there could be another aircraft ready to depart at the next intersection down from you. The controller will inform you which aircraft is number one, or if he needs to know he will ask. It is an embarrassing moment when the controller calls you and asks if you just taxied in front of another aircraft he had sequenced ahead of you. Sooner or later you will see some impatient, self-important pilot do this.

Notice that on the surface you change the radio frequencies when it is time to do so, on your own (ATIS, Clearance, Ground, Tower). Once airborne, never change frequencies until you are instructed to do so.

At Tampa International, assuming a taxi to runway 9 your call for the departure should be:

“Tampa Tower, Cessna four eight seven Charlie echo ready for departure runway niner.”

If you were not given a heading in your clearance, you will get it from the tower when you are cleared for departure. Sometimes even if you were given a heading in your clearance, the tower controller may change it in your departure clearance.

“Cessna four eight seven charlie echo, fly runway heading, cleared for take-off runway niner.”

“Runway heading, cleared for take-off runway niner, Cessna seven charlie echo.”

After your departure you must stay with the tower until the tower tells you to contact departure. This could be as soon as you clear the end of the runway, or when you are on a specific heading. Usually the tower will hand you off to departure very soon after take-off.

“Cessna four eight seven charlie echo, contact departure one three five point five, have a nice flight.”

“Departure now, Cessna seven charlie echo, have a nice day”, or “departure now, Cessna seven charlie echo, thank you.”

“Tampa departure, Cessna four eight seven charlie echo out of seven hundred.”

Departure is aware of the altitude you are climbing to because they assigned it. You can include your heading information in your initial contact if you feel it is important, but usually it is not necessary because it was assigned by departure as well. The departure controller will continue your climb and course clearances.

“Cessna four eight seven charlie echo, Tampa departure, climb maintain three thousand, turn right heading one two zero.”

“Three thousand, heading one two zero, Cessna seven charlie echo.”

Departure and approach frequencies and controllers are the same; the difference is your direction of flight. If you are handed off to a second controller while you are out-bound, you should refer to that controller and subsequent controllers as approach until you are handed off to center.

“Cessna four eight seven charlie echo, contact Approach one one niner point six five.”

“Nineteen sixty-five, Cessna seven charlie echo”, or “one one niner point six five, Cessna seven charlie echo.”

The first response is perfectly fine because all frequencies begin with a one, and the longer response is not necessary. The controller just needs to be sure you understood the transmission.

“Cessna seven charlie echo, climb maintain five thousand, turn right heading one four zero.”

Notice the controller does not use any unnecessary words in his or her transmissions, and neither should you.

“Five thousand heading one four zero, Cessna seven Charlie echo.”

Approach will give you further climb and turn instructions until you are on course, or at least on an intercept for your filed course. You will remain with approach controllers until you are out of their area of control either by horizontal distance or altitude. At that point you will get a hand-off to the Center controlling your area.

“Cessna four eight seven charlie echo, Tampa, contact Miami Center one two seven point two, good day.”

“Twenty-seven two, Cessna seven charlie echo, good day”, or “one two seven point two, Cessna seven charlie echo, good day.”  END Jump to Top