CAT-02 Flight: Non-towered to Class D



Conduct a flight from New Cuyama Airport (L88) to San Luis County Regional Airport (KSBP) without any en-route air traffic control services.

Learning objectives

  • Become familiar with radio communications at non-towered airports.
  • Become familiar with radio communications when arriving at a Class D airport.
  • Become familiar with operating requirements within Class D airspace.
  • Demonstrate basic VFR navigation skills.

Flying the Rating

To successfully complete this rating you must accomplish the following tasks:

  • Fly from L88 to KSBP without utilizing any en-route ATC services.
  • Inform ATC on initial contact into KSBP that you are performing the CAT-2 Rating.
  • Provide an accurate position report on initial contact.
  • Adhere to the process outlined on the Taking the Tests page. NOTE: this applies to all subsequent ratings. It’s listed here because the CAT-1 has its own claim process.
  • Meet the CAT Ratings Practical Test Standards

Airspace Review

The L88 airport is located within Class G airspace which doesn’t generally impose any requirements on our flight.

En-route between L88 and KSBP you will once again generally be operating in Class E airspace which also doesn’t generally impose any requirements on our flight.

KSBP is located within Class D Airspace. Class D airspace exists around most airports with an operational control tower. Generally Class D airspace extends from the surface to 2500’ AGL and exists within 3-10 NM of the airport.

On VFR charts Class D airspace is depicted within a dashed blue line. Within the dashed blue line the maximum altitude of the airspace is depicted in a broken box in hundreds of feet. The minimum altitude of Class D airspace is always the surface.

For example:

Around KSBP the Class D airspace extends out 4 NM from the airport and goes from the surface to 2700’ MSL.

Communications Review

Prior to entering Class D airspace federal regulations require that pilot’s establish two way radio communication with the tower. The Aeronautical Information Manual recommends doing this no more than 15nm from the field. Be sure to listen on the frequency prior to transmitting to ensure you do not interrupt an existing transaction. In order to establish two way radio communications the pilot must call the tower and the tower must reply using the aircraft’s callsign.

For example:

N123AB: “San Luis Tower, N123AB, 10 miles east, request full stop landing, with Echo.”

San Luis Tower: “N123AB, Standby.”

As odd as it might seem, the control tower has used your callsign, so you have established two way radio communication and may enter Class D airspace.

However, if the tower reply was:

San Luis Tower: “Aircraft Calling, Standby”

Then you have NOT established two way radio communication and may not enter the airspace. Controllers are well aware of this distinction and may intentionally use one versus the other, so be sure to listen closely to their response.

Most control towers also provide ATIS (Automated Terminal Information Service). ATIS is a recorded broadcast which continually transmits weather, NOTAMs and runway information. Pilot’s should listen to the ATIS broadcast prior to contacting the control tower. Each ATIS has a unique letter identifier which should be relayed to the tower on initial contact.

Frequencies to listen to ATIS are available on VFR charts and in the Airport Facility Directory.

In all communications with ATC use the following guidelines:

  • Include your callsign in all transmission to Air Traffic Control.
  • Read back all ATC communications to ensure you properly understand the clearance.
  • Avoid making extra transmissions which are not required or requested by ATC.
  • Think before transmitting.

When initiating contact with a tower use the following format:

“(Control Tower Name), (Callsign), (Position), (Request), (ATIS Code).”

For Example: “San Luis Tower, Cessna 123AB, 10 miles East, Full Stop Landing, with Echo.”

Normally the tower will reply with a runway assignment, pattern entry instructions, and in some cases a reporting point.

For Example: “Cessna 123AB, San Luis Tower, Enter Right Base Runway 29, Report 2 mile Right Base.”

As with all Air Traffic Control Communications you should comply with the instruction and advise the tower when 2 miles from the airport on a right base. You can keep this instruction short and to the point.

For Example: “Cessna 123AB, 2 mile right base.”

At this time the tower is likely to issue a landing clearance.

For Example: “Cessna 123AB, runway 29, cleared to land.”

After landing exit the runway at the first available taxiway and ensure that the aircraft is past the hold short lines. The tower should either provide taxi instructions or tell you to contact ground control. Do NOT switch to ground control without an instruction to do so. If you have cleared the runway and the tower doesn’t call you with instructions query the tower.

When contacting ground the same transmission format can be used as when making initial contact with the tower, however it is not necessary to repeat the ATIS code.

For example: “San Luis Ground, Cessna 123AB, Clear of Runway 29 at Foxtrot, Taxi to Transient Parking.”


Previous ratings demonstrated departures from non-towered airports. Here is an example for radio transmissions for an arrival into a Class D airport.

When 10 miles away from San Luis and after obtaining the ATIS.

N123AB: “San Luis Tower, Cessna 123AB, 10 miles east, full stop landing, with echo. Request CAT 2 rating.”

San Luis Tower: “Cessna 123AB, San Luis Tower, enter right base runway 29, report 2 mile right base. Copy CAT 2 rating.”

N123AB: “Report 2 mile right base, runway 29, Cessna 123AB.”

When on a 2 mile right base.

N123AB: “Cessna 123AB, 2 mile right base.”.

San Luis Tower: “Cessna 123AB, runway 29, cleared to land.”

N123AB: “Cleared to land, runway 29, Cessna 123AB.”

When clear of the runway.

San Luis Tower: “Cessna 123AB, contact ground 121.6.”

N123AB: “Contact ground, Cessna 123AB.”

After switching to ground frequency.

N123AB: “San Luis Ground, Cessna 123AB, clear of runway 29 at foxtrot, taxi to transient parking.”

San Luis Ground: “Cessna 123AB, San Luis Ground, taxi to parking via Alpha.”

N123AB: “Taxi to parking via alpha, Cessna 123AB.”

Cockpit Video

Related Material

VFR Communications Manual (commercial product) provides detailed guidance on ATC communications for VFR flights.

Non-towered Airport Operations (External)

ASF presentation on non-towered operations, covering closed traffic, departures, arrivals and radio calls. Highly recommended.

Airport Traffic Patterns (Wikipedia)

How to Fly a Traffic Pattern

Web site containing scrollable, zoomable VFR and IFR charts

VFR Cruising Altitudes

Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge – Navigation

FAA publication on basic and advanced VFR navigation skills.

VFR Flight Planning and Navigation Workshop

YouTube recording of a live workshop conducted by PilotEdge covering VFR flight planning and navigation methods.