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Bits and Pieces

Know Your Airspace, Know Your Route

By Ken Oates, ATC, Toronto Pearson
Introduction by Ian Brown, Editor – Bits and Pieces, EAA 657159

Many VFR pilots steer clear of Class C airspace and ATC.  I am fortunate to have a son-in-law who is a controller in the tower at Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto.  His name is Ken Oates.  I asked him if he would consider writing us some guidance based on his own experience.  He kindly agreed to share some thoughts based on what ATC might want you to know even if you are trying to avoid them!

When planning your VFR flight plan, it’s important to track whether your route will take you near Class C airspace. This airspace exists around controlled airports and can extend out to 30 nautical miles when surrounding a major airport. Whether you’re planning on passing underneath, around, or through Class C airspace, it’s vital to understand how this airspace works.

If you have no functioning transponder with Mode C, you’re restricted from entering Class C airspace. Ensure you plot a route that will take you around or underneath the airspace to avoid being where you shouldn’t be. In addition to having a functioning transponder with Mode C, you must obtain clearance from ATC if you want to enter Class C airspace.

Plan a route that doesn’t pass overhead a major airport but around it, and you should have no issues. Remember, when flying VFR you’re still required to “see and be seen,” and ATC will only offer traffic information, workload permitting. Planning frequency changes in advance can be key in talking with ATC.

If you’re not entering Class C airspace, but passing underneath or in close proximity, you should have the ATC frequency selected and monitor if you’re able. Make sure you already have a note of the frequencies that ATC might use for a specific area.

Nav Canada has provided controllers with state-of-the-art radar displays, which ensure that we controllers see all aircraft moving around the airspace. Aircraft with no transponder are more difficult to handle as all we see is a “chicken foot”. Aircraft that are radar identified and talking with ATC provide controllers with the most information. Once you have been radar identified, all controllers, not just the one you’re talking to, can see all your information and handle you accordingly.

Nav Canada radar display tags from left – prime target “chicken foot” only offers a radar splat of possible aircraft; centre – target on 1200 with Mode C, offering altitude (024 = 2400 feet), ground speed (12 = 120 knots), and direction of flight with trailing dots; and right – radar identified target indicating VFR flight, talking with ATC, offering aircraft identification, altitude, speed, and direction of flight with trailing dots.

It can be intimidating talking with ATC for even the most experienced pilot, but remember we’re there to help. Controllers understand that the airspace can be confusing for pilots who might have low ATC experience; we’re there to assist you in ensuring your transition through the airspace occurs safely and efficiently.

If you have questions for Ken, please submit them to me at ixb@videotron.ca and I'll make sure to follow up with him. – Ed.


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