So en-route to FlightSimCon 2017, we decided to take a little detour and fly along the Hudson for some scenic views of Manhattan. FAA established what is called SFRA (Special Flying Rules Area) around the Hudson and developed a couple of pretty straightforward options for pilots that want to transition along the Hudson. The first option is called Hudson River Exclusion and the other Skyline Route (aka Class B transition). The first option does NOT require any clearances and communication with controllers; you are flying underlying the Class B airspace and self-announce some mandatory reporting points and ensure you maintain traffic separation. The second option involves receiving clearance into Class B which you must obtain (from Newark Tower).
We selected the second option for a couple of reasons. First, by getting a clearance to transition through Class B, you get the additional benefit of having controllers issue traffic advisories. Secondly, if you happen to be on an IFR plan prior to entering the Skyline Route, you may be able to keep the same squawk code as you transition VFR through the Bravo and then depart the area with advisories making it a quasi IFR/VFR combo. A potential disadvantage of this option is that controllers may be too busy and you will not be able to get a clearance. Also, you will fly at higher altitude than the Hudson River Exclusion option so you may prefer the exclusion if you really want to be down low. We were lucky and got 1,500 for the altitude, which would have been only 400ft higher than the exclusion on the northerly transition (exclusion would be 1,100ft typically), so it was not a big deal.
Anyway, here is how we did this. Our fuel stop was in Pennsylvania, so I filed IFR from the origin to an airport on the south side of the class Bravo overlying NYC. Once we got closer to the destination airport and I knew the controller was going to get me approach clearance I contacted them and told them not to bother since we do not intend to land there but rather we want to go North to Hartford, CT (KBDL) via the Skyline Route. The controller acknowledged and confirmed I was canceling IFR and wanted to proceed VFR via Skyline Northbound. Then, he told me I was cleared through Bravo, descended us to 2,500 and later 2,000 and told me to expect to talk to Newark tower next. Then, we just followed VFR to the southern tip of Manhattan. When we got near the Governors Island, he handed me over to Newark tower. Also, I was on the IFR squawk code all that way even through IFR is now cancelled. Newark asked my intentions and I told him I want Skyline at 1,500 northbound then depart to Bradley KBDL. That is all he needs to know. He told me I was to proceed at 1,500 via Skyline. I continued and the controller occasionally issued traffic as it was very busy.
Couple of interesting observations: I think we saw Trump helicopter take off from the Trump Tower area (it is on the video) and that was the closest we’ve been to any other traffic. Second, we’ve heard someone who, without authorization from ATC, decided to change altitude and got chewed up by the ATC. We were handed off to LaGuardia tower next. Once we got to past the Alpine Tower area, he asked us what altitude we wanted en-route to Bradley. Since Bradley is only 65nm NE , I told him 3,500 (in retrospect, I should have chosen 5,500 or so as it was bouncy at 3,500). He cleared us through Bravo (again) told us to climb and direct to KBDL.
So that’s all folks. I find the NYC controllers really accommodating and as long as you do your homework, you should not have any issues flying there. Just keep your eyes open at all times and have your passengers help you scan for traffic. I would suggest that you should definitely take the FAAST class on this topic ( LC-79: New York City Special Flight Rules Area SFRA) and download this file. Also, you need to have a current NYC TAC on-hand.