July 28th, 2021
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Understanding SoCal Airspace
The Southern California TRACON (abbreviated SoCal) is one of the world’s busiest TRACONs and serves more than 20 airports. You can find controllers from ZLA opening this facility on the network under the callsign SCT_APP. This means that they are covering the entire TRACON and, where there are no ground or tower controllers online, they are also providing top-down services. This means that with just one controller, you will have full ATC coverage within the TRACON airspace.
Now, what are the boundaries of the SoCal TRACON? As everyone knows, VATSPY, VATTASTIC, etc. just visualize TRACONs as circles around the main airport (KLAX for SCT), but this is not always the case.
The SoCal TRACON airspace extends from Burbank to the northwest, Palm Springs to the east and San Diego to the South. Below you have an image that displays the TRACON boundaries with referenced airports and VORs.
As you can see, the TRACON covers a large portion of airspace. Whenever you are inside the sectors contained within the gray bold lines, and SCT_APP is online, you should contact the controller prior to any activity if you’re at a towered airport (class B, C and D).
If you’re inside the airspace but in a non-towered airport, and you would like to fly IFR, you can either contact the controller for IFR clearance on the ground or after you’re airborne. If you’re flying VFR and do not want flight following, just fly making sure you are remaining outside of any class B, C and D airspace. Otherwise, you need to contact ATC to transit through class B, C and D airspace.
Pro tip: even though it is not required, flight following is always encouraged in order to start practicing ATC communications and be aware of traffic around you.
As a general guideline, whenever you’re in doubt about operations or anything, always ask ATC first. VATSIM is an environment where everyone should learn something new every day and the controllers can help you enjoy this experience.