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Class B Airspace

| May 28, 2021 | By: Severe VFR
Ohare Control Tower

Class B Airspace Airport Criteria

To be considered a Class B airspace designation candidate, the candidate airport must meet the criteria listed under Order JO 7400.2M.

Section 15-2-1 of this order describes candidate airports for Class B designation. Candidates are determined primarily on the volume of the aircraft at the candidate airport and an assessment of the potential risk of a mid-air collision in the terminal area. Class B designation must contribute to the safety and efficiency of operation and be necessary to correct a current situation that cannot be solved without a Class B designation. 

To qualify as Class B airspace, the candidate airport must: 

  • Have a total airport operations count of at least 300,000, with 240,000 being from air carriers and air taxi, and at least 5 million passengers enplaned annually, or
  • Have at least 5 million passengers enplaned annually with a total airport operations count of more than 220,000 operations, and will exceed 300,000 operations, with 240,000 being from air carriers and air taxi when the itinerant traffic count from the following are added:
    • 50% of the annual itinerant traffic of any airport within 15 nautical miles from the airport being considered that has at least 15,000 annual itinerant operations, and
    • 25% of the annual itinerant traffic count of any airport that is between 15nm and 30nm from the airport being considered that has at least 15,000 annual itinerant operations

Airports with Class B airspace may have their Class B airspace revoked when the airport does not meet Class B airspace criteria for at least five years and is projected to remain below those criteria for the next five years. 

Airspace Dimensions and Location

Class B Airspace Map

Class B airspace locations must include at least one primary airport around which the Class B airspace area is designated.

General Design

Class B airspace is regulatory in nature and is generally airspace from the surface to 10,000ft MSL surrounding the nation's busiest airports. 

However, there is no standard Class B design. Instead, the size and shape of a Class B airspace area will vary depending upon location-specific ATC operational and safety requirements. 

Class B airspace is designed to be as simple as possible with a minimum amount of sub-areas as possible. However, the vertical and lateral limits of the airspace must contain all instrument procedures at the primary airport(s) within the Class B airspace. 

Designers keep the following in mind while designing Class B airspace:

  • Use the configuration that best meets the purposes of reducing potential mid-air collisions, contains all instrument procedures, and enhances the most efficient use of airspace. 
  • Ensure the design does not contain lateral or vertical gaps between adjacent airspace where VFR flight could pose increased hazards for Class B operations. 
  • Avoid configurations that create "traps" or "dead-end" corridors for VFR aircraft attempting to navigate the area. 

Lateral Boundaries

Class B airspace boundaries are defined with a variety of techniques and methods. Designers can define Class B airspace boundaries such as:

  • Latitude/Longitude points
  • Fix/Radial/Distance references
  • NAVAIDs,
  • Prominent landmarks or terrain features

When defining the lateral boundaries, the following must be kept in mind:

  1. Class B airspace should be centered on the airport reference point, an on-airport NAVAID, or a "point-of-origin" defined by latitude/longitude coordinates, as dictated by local requirements. 
  2. The outer limits of the airspace should extend to the smallest distance necessary to provide containment of instrument procedures, including radar vectoring. However, they must not extend beyond 30 NM from the primary airport. This keeps the airspace within the 30 NM Mode-C Veil. Outer limits will be designed with consideration to the operational needs, runway alignment, adjacent regulatory airspace, and adjacent airport traffic. 
  3. If a circular design is appropriate, the airspace may be configured in concentric circles to include a surface area, intermediate, and outer shelf sub-areas. A combination of circular and linear boundaries may also be used. 

The surface area of class B airspace should be designed based upon operational needs, runway alignment, adjacent regulatory airspace, and adjacent airports. However, the surface area must, at a minimum, encompasses all final approach fixes. 

The intermediate and outer shelf sub-areas may be subdivided based on terrain and other regulatory airspaces but must contain instrument procedures. 

Vertical Limits

The upper limit or maximum height of Class B airspace should not exceed 10,000ft MSL. However, airports with high field elevations, adjacent terrain, and specific operational needs may have an upper limit of greater than 10,000ft MSL. 

The vertical limits of the surface area will be from the surface to the upper limit of the Class B airspace. At a minimum, the vertical limits of the surface area must encompass all final approach fixes and minimum altitudes at those final approach fixes. 

The vertical limits of subfloors and intermediate and outer shelf areas should step up with distance from the airport. The floors of these areas will be predicated on the instrument procedure climb and descent gradients to ensure containment of those procedures. The floors of sub-areas shelves can be adjusted considering the terrain, adjacent regulatory airspace, and common vectored flight paths that are not published in any procedure. However, sub-area exclusions are permitted to accommodate adjacent regulatory airspace and/or terrain. 

Different Class B altitude ceilings may be designated for specific sub-areas if there is an operational or airspace efficiency advantage, provided it does not cause pilot confusion or lead to inadvertent intrusions and excursions of the Class B airspace area. 

Class B airspace floors also take into consideration the adverse effects on satellite airport operations. If the airspace directly over a satellite airport is not required, it is generally excluded from the Class B airspace. However, special published traffic patterns and/or procedures may be required. 

Operational Requirements

Part 91.131(a) lists the operational requirements to operate within Class B airspace. 

The most critical operational requirement for Class B airspace is that the pilot must receive an ATC clearance to enter class B airspace. IFR aircraft will receive this clearance when they receive their initial IFR clearance or an amended clearance at some point in the flight. 

VFR aircraft must specifically hear the following phraseology to be considered cleared to enter bravo airspace: [Callsign] CLEARED THROUGH/TO ENTER/OUT OF BRAVO AIRSPACEand as appropriate, VIA (route). MAINTAIN (altitude) WHILE IN BRAVO AIRSPACE. or, CLEARED AS REQUESTED. ATC will then add additional instructions as necessary.

If ATC can not clear a VFR aircraft through bravo airspace, the following phraseology will be used: [Callsign] REMAIN OUTSIDE BRAVO AIRSPACE.ATC will also give the reason the aircraft must remain outside the bravo airspace and additional instructions if needed. 

VFR aircraft that are cleared into the bravo will also be notified when they are leaving the bravo airspace with the following phraseology: LEAVING (name) BRAVO AIRSPACE, and as appropriate, RESUME OWN NAVIGATION, REMAIN THIS FREQUENCY FOR TRAFFIC ADVISORIES, RADAR SERVICE TERMINATED, SQUAWK ONE TWO ZERO ZERO.

Additional requirements include:

  • Pilots that operate a large turbine airplane to or from the primary airport must operate at or above the designated floors of the Class B airspace area while within its lateral limits. 
  • Pilots conducting training operations at an airport within a Class B airspace area must comply with any procedures established by ATC for those operations. 
  • Pilots must also comply with Part 91.129

Equipment Requirements

Part 91.131(c) lists the communication and navigation equipment requirements required to enter Class B airspace. 

All aircraft that wish to operate in Class B airspace must:

  • Be equipped with a two-way radio capable of communications with ATC.
  • Have an applicable operating transponder and automatic altitude reporting equipment specified in Part 91.215 (a), except as provided in part 91.215(e). 
  • Be equipped with applicable ADS-B equipped specified in Part 91.225

IFR aircraft must also be equipped with either an operable VOR, TACAN, or suitable RNAV system.

Pilot Certification Requirements

Pilot certification requirements to enter Class B airspace or to land at an airport within Class B airspace can be found under Part 91.131(b)

As a general rule, to take off and land at an airport within a Class B airspace area or to operate within a Class B airspace area, the pilot must hold at least a private pilot certificate. 

However, a recreational, sport, or student pilot may operate within Class B airspace if certain requirements are met. 

Recreational pilots must meet the requirements of Part 61.101(d) or meet the requirements of a student pilot seeking a recreational pilot certificate found in Part 61.94 

Sport pilots must meet the requirements of Part 61.325 or meet the requirements of a student pilot seeking a sport pilot certificate found in Part 61.94

Student pilots may operate within Class B airspace if they have met the requirements of Part 61.94 or Part 61.95 as applicable. 

Recreational, sport, or student pilots may also land and take off at an airport located within a Class B airspace area as long as the airport is not any of the following airports: 

Atlanta, GA (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport)
Boston, MA (General Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport)
Camp Springs, MD (Joint Base Andrews)
Chicago, IL (Chicago-O'Hare International Airport)
Dallas, TX (Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport)
Los Angeles, CA (Los Angeles International Airport)
Miami, FL (Miami International Airport)
Newark, NJ (Newark Liberty International Airport)
New York, NY (John F. Kennedy International Airport)
New York, NY (LaGuardia Airport)
San Francisco, CA (San Francisco International Airport)
Washington, DC (Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport)

To land at any of these airports requires the pilot to hold at least a private pilot certificate. 

Weather Minimums

Class B VFR Weather Minimums Explanation Graphic

Part 91.155 describes VFR weather minimums.

In Class B airspace, all aircraft are essentially treated as IFR traffic even if being flown under VFR. ATC will provide spacing and traffic advisories removing much of the pilot's burden to see and avoid; however, it is still the pilot's responsibility to watch for other traffic at all times.

Since every aircraft is treated as if they are an IFR aircraft, a VFR aircraft simply must remain clear of clouds and have a forward visibility of at least 3sm.

Speed Restrictions

A common misconception with Bravo airspace is that a pilot can not travel at an indicated airspeed greater than 250 knots while in Bravo airspace. 

This misconception comes from Part 91.117(a), which states: Unless otherwise authorized by the Administrator, no person may operate an aircraft below 10,000 feet MSL at an indicated airspeed of more than 250 knots (288 m.p.h.).

While this rule would apply to aircraft operating within Class B airspace at an altitude less than 10,000ft, it is not just a Class B airspace rule. This rule applies everywhere. 

The only rule that strictly applies to Class B airspace is found in Part 91.117(c), which states: No person may operate an aircraft in the airspace underlying a Class B airspace area designated for an airport or in a VFR corridor designated through such a Class B airspace area, at an indicated airspeed of more than 200 knots (230 mph).

However, Part 91.117(d) states that if a pilot required a minimum safe airspeed for any particular operation greater than these speeds, the pilot may operate at that minimum speed. 


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