Class Conflict
Joe Covino
3 Posts
I am a relatively new pilot with just over 80 hours flying. My comfort level is very conservative,meaning that I have set very high comfort levels for my flying, like wind speed, cross winds, airspace, etc.  

With regards to air space, I currently am not fully comfortable planning flights through an MOA and Class B, so I avoid them. Yes it causes my flights to sometimes be a little longer than if I went directly through them...but my comfort level is just not there yet. 

On on a recent cross country from Brackett (KPOC) to Montegomery Field (KMYF) I requested VFR flight following. The route I planned to fly took me outside the large Class B that is San Diego (KSAN), which includes Miramar NAS. 

Other than the ceiling being a bit lower than I had planned to fly, the flight went well. As I was approaching the first shelf of Class B, I began to navigate around it. 

Shortly after I began to head away, SOCAL Approach called me and advised that I was cleared direct to my destination.  And followed up with, unless you are flying around Class B. I advised that I was flying around. She advised that I can continue to fly my own navigation. 

This also happened on my return out of Montegomery Field, but in that communication SOCAL Approach said I could proceed direct and was cleared through the Bravo. I still requested to go around and was told to follow my own navigation. 

My my question is, when the first controller told me I was cleared direct to my destination through the Class B, is that the same as being cleared into Class B?  I didn’t hear the “magic words”. 

Its this splitting of hairs in communications that still makes me uncomfortable with entering Class B. Last thing I want to do is bust airspace. Yes, I know I can ask to confirm, but since I did not plan to fly into the Class B, I just told her, I’d go around and stay on the flight plan I had originally set up for this flight. 

Does the term “cleared direct” allow for flight through different airspaces that require communications?  
8 Replies
Hi Joe.
The Air Safety Institute recently did an Ask ATC video on this very question. 
The answer is Yes, you must be specifically cleared into the class B airspace. Otherwise, they are still relying on you to keep yourself clear. My guess is that if you had said you wanted to fly through it then they would have given you the "magic words".
Here is the video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvIbzPf6my4
Ronald Levy
1453 Posts
Perhaps you misunderstood the controller.  If you are merely transiting the Clads B in your way to somewhere beyond the Class B, the controller uses the word “through” rather than “into” in the Class B clearance.  But if you aren’t sure, you should ask.  So, if the controller says “direct destination” and that will take you through the Class B, just ask, “Am I cleared through the Bravo?”

 In addition, even under VFR in Class E airspace, you are still required to obey ATC instructions.  If the controller clears you direct and you deviate off that line (as you did), that is a technical violation of 91.123.  This is another reason why you should have immediately obtained clarification when the controlller instructed you to proceed direct (which would take you through the Bravo) and you didn’t hear them clear you through the Bravo.
Ronald Levy
1453 Posts

Nicole Applegate:
Hi Joe.
The Air Safety Institute recently did an Ask ATC video on this very question. 
The answer is Yes, you must be specifically cleared into the class B airspace. Otherwise, they are still relying on you to keep yourself clear. My guess is that if you had said you wanted to fly through it then they would have given you the "magic words".
Here is the video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvIbzPf6my4

If the controller says “direct”, the controller expects direct, and is not “relying on you to keep yourself clear.”  If the direct route takes you through Bravo but you weren’t cleared through Bravo as part of that clearance, it is incumbent upon you the pilot to immediately obtain clarification as to whether you’re cleared through or expected to navigate around off that direct route.  See 14 CFR 91.123, paragraphs a and b.
Joe Covino
3 Posts
Thanks Ronald for your replies. They raise a couple of different questions. In both cases I did not request direct to my destination through the Bravo. In the enroute flight, SOCAL Approach seeing me navigating around the Bravo and knowing where I was headed called out to me and appeared to offer the direct approach as more of a convenience than a mandatory direction of “fly heading of” as she also followed up with “unless you want to stay out of Bravo”. She noticed and correctly assumed that I was purposely flying outside the Class B boundary.  Once I advised that I’d like to remain clear of Bravo, she advised that I could continue to fly my own navigation. Are you saying that while flying VFR, because I preferred to stay on my flight plan outside of Bravo that if SOCAL Approach “offers” a more direct route, and clears me “direct” I am obligated to follow it??  On my return flight the same...it was more of an offer to fly direct through the Bravo, but in this case I heard the “magic words” cleared into Bravo.  Once again, I requested to remain outside Bravo and the controller allowed me to resume my own navigation. I don’t see the violation as once requested both controllers allowed me to resume my own navigation.  I totally understand the violation if I refuse to fly a heading I have been directed to fly but see no violation if I request and get approval not to fly a suggested or offered route. Am I wrong in my understanding?  
Ronald Levy
1453 Posts

Joe Covino:
Thanks Ronald for your replies. They raise a couple of different questions. In both cases I did not request direct to my destination through the Bravo. In the enroute flight, SOCAL Approach seeing me navigating around the Bravo and knowing where I was headed called out to me and appeared to offer the direct approach as more of a convenience than a mandatory direction of “fly heading of” as she also followed up with “unless you want to stay out of Bravo”. She noticed and correctly assumed that I was purposely flying outside the Class B boundary.  Once I advised that I’d like to remain clear of Bravo, she advised that I could continue to fly my own navigation. Are you saying that while flying VFR, because I preferred to stay on my flight plan outside of Bravo that if SOCAL Approach “offers” a more direct route, and clears me “direct” I am obligated to follow it??  

Actually, it’s the Chief Counsel who says that.  If ATC “instructs” you to do something while you are in controlled airspace (even Class E), absent an emergency, you are obligated to do what they say, even if you are VFR.


On my return flight the same...it was more of an offer to fly direct through the Bravo, but in this case I heard the “magic words” cleared into Bravo.  Once again, I requested to remain outside Bravo and the controller allowed me to resume my own navigation. I don’t see the violation as once requested both controllers allowed me to resume my own navigation.  I totally understand the violation if I refuse to fly a heading I have been directed to fly but see no violation if I request and get approval not to fly a suggested or offered route. Am I wrong in my understanding?  

If ATC said it was OK, it was OK.

Hi Joe-

I’m based in SOCAL as well and had a similar experience on one of my early VFR flights. I’d set up a route to avoid the Burbank Class C airspace and, once I received flight following, started to navigate around it. The controller asked my intended flight path and when I told him he immediately said ‘Negative, proceed direct to destination’. My assumption is that once a controller knows your final destination it’s a lot easier for them to anticipate your flight path if you head direct rather than turning and dodging around airspace in a way they can’t necessarily predict. So, less work and safer for them to just clear you through whatever airspace on a known path. You aren’t obligated to comply, as long as you let the controller know your intentions and everyone is in agreement. No reason to fear the Class B. You’re already making the effort to get flight following, and you know that you need to hear the ‘magic words’, so let the controllers help simplify your workload as well. And, as others have said, if there’s ever any question a quick call to get clarification is easy enough.