Updated: Oct 3
With FlightInsight’s latest VFR Radio Communications Course set to launch this week, I thought it would be appropriate to look at some best practices for making your radio calls. Check out the course homepage and sign up for details. See you in class!
As a flight instructor at a non-towered field, I can’t count the number of times communications on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) have saved me from a dangerous mid air incident. Non-towered fields can get very busy, and without an air traffic controller playing traffic cop, aircraft communicating with each other is vital.
A big part of this communication is understandability, which is why it’s important to use standard phraseology when speaking on the radio. Here are 6 words or phrases which should be avoided at non-towered fields, but unfortunately are heard all too often.
This isn’t necessarily heard over the radios, but let’s start off by dispelling the notion that these fields are “uncontrolled.” They are “pilot-controlled” airports, meaning the pilots select the runway to use and are responsible for staying separated in the pattern, by looking out the window and listening on the CTAF, known as “using your ear-balls.” The correct term for these fields in non-towered.
Taking the Active
What pilots mean by this is that they are taxiing onto a runway to takeoff. Why not say you’re taking off? Why say you’re “taking” the runway? Where are you taking it? Also, there’s no active runway at a pilot-controlled field. As stated above the pilots select which runway to use based on wind and other considerations, and this should be discussed on the CTAF. This is another reason calling the runway the “active” is no good. It doesn’t help anyone’s situational awareness since they don’t know which runway you’re departing from based on the call. A proper call would sound like, “College Park traffic, Skyhawk 9334H taking off runway 33, departing to the east, College Park.”
Chapter 4 of the AIM dictates that our callsigns should start with our aircraft type. Many pilots of whose aircraft have an experimental category on their certificate will use that term in place of aircraft type. Unfortunately, there is a very big difference between a Lancair IV and a Kitfox. Adding your aircraft type to your callsign lets others know the performance characteristics of your plane, like if you’re likely to overtake their Cessna 152 on downwind in your Glasair 2S.
Any Traffic Please Advise
This one is actually called out in the AIM in 4-1-9 (g) as not a recognized self announce. A big part of understanding communications involves listening. When first switching over to a CTAF, you should spend a minute or two listening to the transmissions. One of the modules in the VFR Communications Course actually has this as an exercise where we listen to a real CTAF session and build a mental image of where all the planes are. A common practice of aircraft making their first call, “…bizjet318 20 miles out straight in for runway 17, any traffic in the area please advise,” only clogs up what can often be a very busy frequency. Worst case, you could be tying up the comms while two aircraft in the pattern are trying to deconflict from each other.
Apart from that, making this call doesn’t accomplish much. You’ll maybe get a ton of radio calls all at once, or hear nothing, which only means no one responded to you. Give aircraft some time to make position reports on their own. Besides, with ADS-B these days you should be able to build your situational awareness without relying on aircraft to respond to your request.
On the Go
This one slips under the radar because almost everyone is guilty of it. When practicing touch and goes for example, a pilot will often call in “Cambridge traffic, Piper 8 Sierra Bravo on the go runway 23. Cambridge,” meaning they’ve touched down, and are now applying power and going back up. The problem is the phrase “on the go” doesn’t adequately communicate this. It could also mean you’re going missed on an instrument approach, you’re going around because of something or someone on the runway, or are doing a low approach. If you must state “on the go,” you can at least include your intentions, just as you would for any takeoff, such as “remaining in the pattern.”
This isn’t Mudville. “No Joy” is an old-timey term that means you don’t have visual contact of another aircraft. For example, if there are two aircraft reporting downwind at the same airport, one might report “no joy” meaning they can’t see the other one. This may have worked in the RAF in the 40s (I’m not even sure it was proper phraseology then), but in civil aviation the term is “negative contact.” For that matter, terms like “Tally Ho” or “Bingo” are best left to old war movies.
Berating Others’ Phraseology
Here’s a bonus one. We all have our radio pet peeves. But the worst offense is further clogging up the CTAF with a lecture on someone’s improper phraseology. Even if we hear things that just don’t sound right, at least we’re communicating and building everyone’s situational awareness. The radio police should keep their criticisms off the CTAF, and save them for pithy articles like this one.
How about you? What are some of your worst offenders? Let’s hear it in the comments!