Short Final: Open Wide


Years ago, I was a student pilot on a night flight with my instructor. We flew from Palo Alto across San Francisco Bay and over the hills to Livermore for some touch-and-go landings. After several turns in the pattern, we headed back over the hills to find the bay covered with a thick marine layer. I could see clear skies on the west side where the PAO beacon was flashing. But to get over the clouds we would have to cross the bay at an altitude that would put us into Class B for San Francisco International. The frequency was very busy with arrivals so it was a while before I could break in with my rehearsed request.

Me: “NorCal Approach, Cessna N1234 at SUNOL intersection request Bravo transition to Palo Alto at 4,500.”

NorCal: “Cessna 1234, remain clear of the Bravo. I can’t let you fly straight across final to SFO. Say intentions.”

Me (not having a backup plan): “Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhh…”

NorCal: “Cessna 1234, I’m an air traffic controller, not your doctor!


  1. I learned early that when contacting ATC, always have a backup request (or two) before you ask. That almost always ensures that your original request will be granted, and you won’t need them. It’s a positive variant of Murphy’s Law.

    • Just ask for the TRACON/Center/TWR phone number over frequency in case the controller “might” contribute to a possible violation of 103.23 Flight visibility and cloud clearance requirements FAR. 🙂

      • Frank, I don’t know if this is meant as a joke, but there is no way ATC can contribute to the violation. It would be solely on the PIC.
        In the instant situation, it seems that maintaining VFR was not a problem – the problem was getting back to Palo Alto. If, however, penetrating the Bravo was the ONLY way to maintain VFR, tell the controller that you are unable to maintain VFR, and if necessary declare an emergency.
        The OP could have just orbited outside the Bravo while trying to coordinate with ATC.

  2. ” Student VFR pilot at SUNOL on route to KPAO overflying layer need altitude for VFR cloud clearance.”

    Or if your instructor and your airplane were IFR capable and current a pop up clearance would work.

    Or towards the south just north of KSJC Class C airspace the floor of B is 4,000′.

    How did you get home?