Class Delta Confusion

Does air traffic control ensure separation between IFR and VFR traffic in class delta? The answer is no. Curiously enough 75% of private pilots and 70% of airline transport pilots believe it is not their responsibility. A survey revealed these shocking numbers.

An airprox involving a Saab 2000 and a military PC-7 occured on september 10th 2010. The final report No. 2167, includes a rather embarrassing survey (p. 19). The group of 241 pilots surveyed included 114 pilots with a private pilot licence, 82 pilots with a commercial pilot licence and 42 pilots with an airline transport pilot licence, including 106 pilots with a flight instructor licence.


Crews themselves are responsible, according to the principle of “see and be seen” (quote from the investigation). This applies to IFR and VFR. Whenever an IFR flight is in VMC the pilots are responsible to avoid traffic. In class D airspace IFR aircraft will receive traffic information additionally – but no separation from VFR.


Class delta control towers do not even need to be equipped with radar. Radar controllers are found in charlie and bravo airspaces. In bravo airspace VFR aircraft have to follow altitude and heading instructions, thus no cloud distances need to be applied – class bravo is “remain clear of clouds” and separation to VFR and IFR aircraft is given by the controller. This is not the case in class delta. During my PPL I flew into Bellingham WA a few times and they did not have any radar. The airline pilots were looking out for me and I was looking out for them. The controller gave traffic advisory to both of us but otherwise it was the same story as in class echo.

Obtained from p.25 of the Swiss survey.

There’s no need to quote and comment the whole investigation. All I want is to highlight this survey and it’s striking conclusions.

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