Aviation Communications - Class D Airspace

Class D Airspace Communications

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Class D airports are the simplest of all controlled airports, and they may or may not have radar capabilities. These airports are more similar to Class E and G airports than they are to class B or C. In fact when the tower closes, these airports become class E or G as will be specified in the appropriate AF/D. The real communication difference is that you are talking to a tower controller instead of the traffic in the area (other pilots).

The standard boundary of class D airspace is usually a 5 nautical mile radius around the primary airport, and the ceiling is usually 2500 feet above airport elevation. Class D airspace can easily be identified by a dashed blue line on VFR sectional charts. It is also common to have a class E surface area on the approach path to a class D airport, and a dashed magenta boundary on a VFR sectional chart signifies this. A dashed magenta boundary always means class E airspace to the surface.

There is no requirement for mode-C (or the new mode S altitude reporting equipment) in class D airspace unless it underlies a class B or C area. To enter class D airspace you need only establish radio contact. Radio contact is established when the controller responds to you using your call sign. If the controller responds with:

“Aircraft calling Gainesville, standby.” Radio contact has not been established and you may not enter the airspace. If the controller responds with:

“Cessna two niner four charlie zulu, Gainesville, remain clear of delta airspace.” Radio contact has been established but you may not enter the airspace because you have been told to remain clear. This happens, but it is not common. If the controller responds with:

“Cessna two niner four charlie zulu, Gainesville tower.” Radio contact has been established, and you may continue inbound.

Remember your initial call to a class D airport should be a 10-mile call. Try to avoid waiting until the last minute to make your calls so the controller has plenty of time to sequence you into the traffic pattern.

As with other controlled airports ATIS is available at class D airports, and the procedure is always the same for obtaining, and deciphering it. The frequency for ATIS can always be found on VFR sectional charts in the information block for the airport, as well as in the appropriate AF/D.

Be aware that at very busy times at certain airports, and always at some airports, it is necessary to have an appointment to land; this is true at Gainesville’s class D when a game is scheduled. There is a section in the AIM (4-1-21) specifically pertaining to this procedure.

Unless you are IFR, or utilizing flight following, it is not required that you be in contact with approach control prior to entering class D airspace. You can simply make your initial call to the tower, as you would to traffic or UNICOM at a class E or G airport. On occasion, where a class D airport underlies the shelf of class B or C airspace, the tower may request that you be in contact with the approach controller for the primary airport. It depends upon how busy the tower is, how far away you are, and your altitude, on your initial call to the tower. The arrival to any busy controlled airport is usually easier if you are in contact with approach control. This is especially true in the case of a class D airport that lies under one of the above-mentioned shelves.

A nice aspect of class D airports is that they are usually not as busy as other controlled airports, and thus very nice to practice controlled airport operations. The controllers usually appreciate the traffic, as it helps their count, and they encourage your return.


Similar to class E and G airports, your initial call to the class D tower should be made 10 miles from the airport. You should have already obtained the ATIS, and be prepared to make your first call by the 10-mile point. As with all controlled airport operations, it is advisable to have a note pad to write down the important information you receive from the ATIS broadcast, and the instructions you receive from the tower controller.

On your initial call you only want to make the tower aware that you are out there, and that you wish to talk to them, nothing more.

“Gainesville Tower, piper three one six hotel tango.”

“Piper six hotel tango, Gainesville Tower.”

The tower may shorten your call sign if there are no aircraft with similar call signs in the area. Now the tower is ready for your information, they know you are there.

“Piper six hotel tango, one zero, ten southeast with echo, landing Gainesville”, or if you know your destination on the airport, “Piper six hotel tango, one zero, ten southeast with echo inbound to flight line.”

In these transmissions, you told the tower where you are and what you want to do. In the first example, you told the tower you wanted to land at Gainesville. This is good if you are unfamiliar with the airport, and you are not sure where you will be parking. In the second example, you told the tower exactly where you wanted to park. This is better if you are familiar with the airport, as the tower already knows your destination and will not have to ask you later.

The tower will reply with a runway instruction for your approach. We will assume an ATIS report of winds 250, with runways 24 and 28 in use. This makes runway 28 your logical runway, as you would have to cross the approach path of runway 28 to get to runway 24 (see figure 17).

“Piper six hotel tango, Gainesville tower, report a two-mile left base for runway two eight.”

“Roger, piper six hotel tango”, or “wilco, piper six hotel tango.”

Either response is okay, and ensures the controller that you received your instructions. This is a common assignment from a class D Tower. If we assumed an easterly wind, which would make runways 6 and 10 active, you could expect this instruction from the tower:

“Piper six hotel tango, Gainesville, report entering a right downwind for runway one zero.”

Even though you were given a right downwind entry for runway 10, because a right downwind for runway 6 is impossible, you will most likely be given a landing clearance for runway 6 because “Flight line” (the FBO), is north of runway six. (see figure 17)

“Piper six hotel tango, cleared to land runway six.”

With an east wind it is also possible that you would be given a clearance to report a 2-mile right base to runway 6.

“Piper six hotel tango, Gainesville, report a two-mile right base runway six.”

Since runway 6-24 are on the north side of the airport, it is logical that the tower will be assigning runways 10-28 for traffic that is south of the airport, and runways 6-24 for traffic in the north. The size of an aircraft and its destination on the airport also has a bearing on the runway assignment. Of course this is not mandatory, and it is also very possible to get this instruction:

“Piper six hotel tango, Gainesville tower, report entering a left downwind for runway two four.”

Runway 28 is the instrument runway, and there may be a long string of traffic on final. In this case you will fly at the proper pattern altitude toward the center of the airport, and then turn to a left downwind at the appropriate time, and as you are turning to the downwind make your next call.

“Gainesville Tower, Piper six hotel tango left downwind, runway two four.”

If there is no other traffic in the pattern for this runway, you will most likely get a clearance to land at this time.

“Piper six hotel tango cleared to land runway two four.”

“Cleared to land runway two four, Piper six hotel tango.”

If there is other traffic, you may get this clearance:

“Piper six hotel tango, Gainesville, report Cessna on right base for runway two four insight.”

“Piper six hotel tango with traffic on right base insight.”

“Roger piper six hotel tango, follow that traffic, cleared to land number two, runway two four.”

“Cleared to land runway two four, number two, Piper six hotel tango.”

The exchange will be similar regardless of the runway you are landing on. A variation in the landing clearance may be:

“Piper six hotel tango, cleared for the option, runway two four.”

It is not mandatory that you state the runway in your read-back unless more than one runway is in use, and traffic is a little heavy.

“Cleared for the option, Piper six hotel tango.”

In this clearance you are cleared for a touch and go, or for a full stop landing, the option is yours. This is common when traffic is light at the airport. If traffic becomes heavy, it is likely the tower will require a full stop and taxi back for those in the pattern practicing landings.

At an airport such as Gainesville (see figure 17), all general aviation activity is on the north side of the field, and all commercial passenger traffic is on the south side, so your runway exit is obvious. . At other airports where there are FBO’s on both the north and south sides of the field, your intended parking is much more important before you are ready to exit the runway. In this case the tower will ask your parking intentions during your rollout.

“Piper six hotel tango, say parking.”

It is of great help if you have researched the airport a little before your arrival. The tower is not allowed to give an FBO recommendation because it is seen as an invitation for prejudicial treatment of the FBOs, however some pilots will make these requests with the controller:

“I’m looking for the cheapest fuel, Piper six hotel tango”, or “any FBO, piper six hotel tango”. In either case, all the tower can do is tell you which FBO’s are on the field, and you have to choose.

“The Aviation Center is on the north, and Raytheon is on the south, say parking.”

It is obvious that radio and runway time are being used up as this decision is being made, and the tower has better things to do than provide you with information that you should have obtained in your flight planning.

There are numerous sources to obtain excellent airport terminal information such as the airport facility directory from the AOPA, which includes local hotels and attractions. . Internet sites such as AIRNAV, which includes fuel prices as up-to-date as can be expected are excellent sources. The AF/D does not have names and phone numbers of FBO’s as these other sources do, however it does provide a frequency for UNICOM where you can contact the FBO’s from the air prior to your arrival at the airport to make your parking decision.

Once you are on the ground, during your rollout the tower will give you your runway exit instructions, and a frequency change to ground if necessary.

“Piper six hotel tango, exit taxiway charlie, contact ground point seven when clear”, or “piper six hotel tango, exit taxiway charlie, remain my frequency to the ramp.”

“Roger, piper six hotel tango”, or “with you to the ramp, piper six hotel tango.”

In example one, stop after crossing the hold short line and contact Ground Control as soon as possible. . You don’t want to set there for an extended period of time doing other things without talking to Ground.

In example two, you are already cleared to the ramp so just remain on tower frequency as you continue your taxi. If you are unfamiliar with the airport and you wish for assistance in your taxi, simply let the controller know.

“Gainesville Ground, Piper six hotel tango unfamiliar, progressive taxi please.”


As a rule most class D airports do not have a clearance delivery frequency. You will request your clearance from ground control when you are ready for it if you are on an Instrument flight plan.

From the ramp either listen to the ATIS broadcast before engine start-up, or listen to it during your engine warm-up. If you are VFR, you will tell the controller who you are, where you are, that you have the current ATIS, that you are VFR, and your direction of flight. In your initial call just let them know who you are, and when they respond give them the rest of the information.

“Gainesville Ground, Cessna five niner two four zero”.

“Cessna two four zero, Gainesville Ground.”

“We are at flight line with papa VFR to the south, Cessna two four zero.”

“Roger Cessna two four zero, taxi via alpha to runway one zero, hold short runway six.”

“Alpha to one zero, hold short six, Cessna two four zero.”

At Gainesville, runways 6 and 10 share a common run-up area north of runway 6, and it is necessary to cross the approach end of runway 6 to get to runway 10 (see figure 17). Taxi to the run-up area at the departure end of runways 6 and 10, complete your run-up and then call the tower when you are ready for departure. Do not wait for Ground to give you a frequency change to tower, as they will not do this. It is expected that you will change frequencies when you are ready. Once airborne you will get frequency changes from the controllers, this procedure is the same at all controlled airports with the exception of a VFR frequency change if you are clear of the airspace at a class D only.

“Gainesville Tower, Cessna two four zero ready for departure holding short runway six.”

“Cessna two four zero, Gainesville tower, taxi into position and hold, runway one zero.”

“Position and hold runway one zero, Cessna two four zero.”

Runway 10 is the most logical runway for a departure to the south because a departure on runway 6 or 24 would make it necessary to cross the flight path of any traffic using runways 10 or 28.

“Cessna two four zero cleared for take-off runway one zero, early turn to the south approved.”

“Cleared for take-off Cessna two four zero.”

It is not necessary to read back the turn to the south. Usually if you get a clearance with an early turn approval, it means that the tower would appreciate an early turn. There may be faster traffic that the controller will be departing behind of you with a straight out flight path. It could also be that there is traffic meeting you from the other direction on a practice approach, and the tower would like to clear the runway for that traffic. In any case when you are operating in the environment of a tower-controlled airport and you get a turnout clearance, especially an early turnout clearance, the tower usually appreciates a turn as early as you can safely make it.

You will either get an approval for a frequency change as you clear class D airspace, or you can request a frequency change. You can also change frequencies any time you are clear of the airspace with out a clearance to do so. If the radio is congested, and you are well clear of the airspace, don’t worry about obtaining a frequency change approval.

“Cessna two four zero frequency change approved, have a nice flight.”

“Thank you Gainesville, have a nice day.”

A frequency change request from you:

“Gainesville Tower, Cessna two four zero request frequency change.”

“Cessna two four zero, frequency change approved, come back and see us again.”

“Thank you Gainesville, have a nice day.”

There are only two differences with an IFR departure from a class D airport. One is your call to Ground Control before your taxi, as in a VFR departure, first just who you are.

“Gainesville Ground, Cessna five niner two four zero.”

“Cessna five niner two four zero, Gainesville Ground.”

“We are at Flight Line with whiskey, IFR clearance to Sarasota please, Cessna two four zero.”

“Clearance on request.”

“Cessna five niner two four zero, Gainesville ground, have your clearance, advise ready to copy.”

“Ready to copy, Cessna two four zero.”

“Cessna five niner two four zero cleared to Sarasota as filed, on departure fly heading one eight zero, climb and maintain two thousand, expect six thousand in ten minutes, departure frequency one one eight point six, squawk four three five six.”

“As filed, heading one eight zero, two thousand, six thousand in ten, squawk four three five six, Cessna two four zero.”

“Read back correct, advise ready to taxi.”

Notice the necessity of two ground calls for IFR flights. After the correct read back of your clearance the taxi procedure is the same as the VFR taxi procedure.

“Gainesville ground, Cessna five niner two four zero ready for taxi.”

The other difference in an IFR departure is that instead of a frequency change approval, you will get a frequency hand-off to departure, or in this case approach control as Jacksonville Approach handles IFR traffic into, and out of Gainesville.

“Cessna five niner two four zero, contact Jacksonville Approach on one one eight point six, have a nice flight.”

“Eighteen six, have a nice day, Cessna two four zero”, or “one one eight point six, thank you Gainesville, Cessna two four zero.”

Then your call to Approach:

“Jacksonville Approach, Cessna five niner two four zero level two thousand.”

After you are with approach or departure, which ever the case may be, your procedures will be the same as other enroute procedures. END Jump to Top