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Flying into busy class B airports

More preparation on the ground will mitigate the Challenge

Flying into a busy airport can be challenging because of the traffic volume and rapid-fire instructions, yes, but the expanded procedures and need to plan ahead deserve as much of the blame. More preparation on the ground will result in a smoother experience in the air. Try to enjoy the experience, and don’t forget to bring your credit card because the bills won’t be cheap.
Illustration by Charles Floyd.
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Illustration by Charles Floyd.

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  • Every airport in the country is in the FAA’s chart supplement books. Take the time to read the entry on your chosen destination, which may give some specific information on general aviation flights.
  • Find the parking options (FBOs) and where they are physically located on the airport.
  • Study the airport diagram carefully and note your chosen FBO’s location in relation to the runways.
  • Prior to departure, check the weather at the destination airport and plan on which runway to expect.
  • Write down the frequencies you will need, which may include multiple tower and ground control options, depending on the runway you are assigned. Also note any ramp control frequencies.
  • Get flight following after taking off from your initial point to make the transition to the Class B airport seamless.
  • Write down instructions if you need to. Prepare for simple vectors and altitude targets from ATC.
  • Try and keep your speed up on final, but otherwise don’t change procedures. Now is not the time to lower the gear at a different point. ATC will expect you to be slower than most of the other traffic.
  • Exit the runway as assigned, or as soon as you possibly can. Don’t dally.
  • On departure from a Class B airport, do the same, but this time include the clearance frequency, ground control for your area, tower frequencies, and initial departure control.
  • In preparation for departure, plan the taxi route from the FBO to the expected runway, including how you will exit the ramp. Some airports have massive ramps with many exits.
  • When it’s time to depart, listen first to the ATIS for instructions, and expect to call clearance delivery before ground control. Be prepared to give them your destination and altitude and write down their exact instructions. If you are on a remote part of the ramp, it’s a good idea to do your runup in place so you are ready to depart when you reach the runway. Then call ground control when you are ready to taxi.
  • If in doubt of where you are going on the ground, ask. Use your tools, such as an iPad with a moving map of the airport diagram, as reference.

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Ian J. Twombly
Ian J. Twombly
Ian J. Twombly is senior content producer for AOPA Media.

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