I just flew into class B airspace without a clearance! Now what?

  • I just flew into class B airspace without a clearance! Now what? Joe

    Hypothetical: Let's say (for whatever reason) a pilot became distracted or disorientated, and found themselves in class B airspace.

    What steps should they take immediately and after landing to be safe and avoid any backlash from authorities?

  • While still in the airspace, you should contact the controller if you can, since it may be important to safety.

    After landing, you may get the dreaded phone number from a controller (probably tower or ground) which you're supposed to call and speak with someone from the FAA. You should not volunteer any information about the incident during this call without talking to a lawyer or AOPA legal services first.

    Then, most importantly, fill out a report in the Aviation Safety Reporting System. Any information you submit will not be used against you in an enforcement action by the FAA, and in many cases, people who volunteer information through the system receive much softer treatment, and sometimes forgo enforcement all together.

    The reason the FAA incentivizes this self-reporting is so they can better collect information about accidents which inevitably happen. If they know why you accidentally strayed into the bravo, maybe they can improve procedures or charts to help other pilots from making the same mistakes.

  • I've done it three times in 1200 hours of flying, I must admit.

    First time, my plane was performing better than usual (conditions were just right) and I nicked the SFO airspace on climb-out. About 20 minutes later, they called me with a phone number to call when I landed. Spent the rest of the flight shitting bricks. When I got to my destination, I was chewed out by the controller for about fifteen minutes.

    I was so rattled I didn't leave my home airport again until I'd gone up with an instructor for a refresher.

    Second time was in Boston. I flew through an airspace extension that wasn't on the map. Spent a few minutes on the radio arguing with the controller about it. "It's not on my map". "Well, we have a letter of agreement with the local airports." "But it's not on my map, how was I supposed to know?". Nothing else ever came of it.

    Lesson learned: the space between the top of a class D and the bottom of the overlying class B airspace might be considered part of the class B, so just avoid them unless you're under ATC control.

    Third time, I was in contact with ATC, skirting outside the lowest layer of their class B. I turned left to avoid a cloud when I should have turned right, and got chewed out by the controller and told to make an immediate right.

    Anyway, the bottom line is that if you didn't actually endanger anybody, and just nicked the corner of the airspace (which is what I did in all three cases), you'll probably just get away with a stern talking-to.

    But blunder through the path of an incoming airliner, and you're probably looking at a 4-month suspension of your license.

    Filing an ASRS report is probably a very good idea if it ever happens to you.

  • Since this question doesn't specify whether the pilot is operating as VFR or IFR or if the pilot has had previous communications with ATC, my best recommendation is to directly exit the airspace and then contact ATC for clearance.

    If you are on an IFR flight plan and following a previous clearance, I would continue on your last assigned clearance and contact ATC as soon as possible. I would not recommend landing inside Class-B airspace without clearance unless you have a communications failure. Even with a failure, it might be more practical/safe to land to the nearest destination outside of Class B.

    Upon landing, fill out an ASRS report and, depending on the infraction, seek legal advice in some form like AOPA Pilot Protection Services.

Related questions and answers
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  • This question is somewhat related to this other one. I listened to this exchange between a helicopter and Newark. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHNvXPbZ7WI The helicopter wants to land at Newark. The controller tells the helicopter to remain clear of the Class B. I'm aware that the controllers must give clearance to operate in certain classes of airspace, and the helicopter wasn't granted clearance to do so. Why was the helicopter denied (as far as can be deduced)? What should the pilot have done differently, either to get clearance to land at Newark or to anticipate not being able to?

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  • What does ATC do when there is an emergency? This could be a tower or an ARTCC being evacuated or otherwise unusable. How do they decide whether to close the airport/airspace? What do they do with the traffic, whether they do or don't close? On this related question, it turned out that Newark closed because of smoke in the tower. Another user posted an interesting anecdote about another tower being evacuated, so I thought it warranted a question.

  • There are some good sights to see inside of class Bravo airspace. What is the best way to plan and communicate to ATC that my intention is to fly into the airspace to see some specific landmarks?

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  • With the intention of landing, taking off, or entering the traffic pattern at an airport in Class E airspace, what is the minimum ceiling and visibility as a VFR pilot in the USA.

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