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Basic Airplane Radio Procedure
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Radio Skills are 50% of Flying
Getting the ATIS; …Michael's Introduction; ,,, Ground Radio to Taxi; …Departure Radio; …Arrival Radio; …Non-tower Over-flights; …Non-tower Operations; …UNICOM; …The Callup; Intercoms and Headsets; ...Beginning Basic Radio; …Radio Procedures in Brief;...Radio Preparation; ...Taxi Call, ...Takeoff Call; ...Arrival Call; ...This Pilot Is Assertive; Six Levels of Assertiveness; ...Talking Airplane; ...Knowing When to Say What and How to Say It; ...Radio Instruction; ...The Call-up; ...Types of Pilots on the Radio; ...Don't Answer if It's the Wrong Number; ...Precision Radio; …The Safety of Radio Flight Operations; ...Safety Notice; ...Communication Problems; …Communicating Problems; ...When Asking for Help; ...Communication Faults; …Common Mistakes; ...Radio and Traffic Awareness; ...Emergency Location at Work; …Using the FSS; ...A Bit of Terminology; …Stuck Mike Switch; …Emergency Communications; …Avionics Capability; …Cockpit Radio; …Communications Briefly; …ASOS and AWOS; …Talking to Flight Watch; …Talking the NEW Talk; … About Closing Your Flight Plan; …Radio Use During a Semi-Emergency; … PIC vs. ATC; …Appended to the 'Clearance' Discussion; ... Knowing Your Situation by Radio; … 9/11 Changes: Victor Guard & Uniform Guard Frequencies; ...ATC/Pilot Radio Technique (RT} Discipline; ...Revisiting Radio Procedures; ...Antenna Basics; ...Radio Pattern and Procedure Problems; ...Readback; ...Free AOPA Communications Booklet; ...

Getting the ATIS
I have found that it is a tremendous advantage to be able to get the ATIS the first time every time. I have also found, that the expense of having the engine running is a prime motivation to listen and get the ATIS quickly and efficiently. I have had many pilots come to me who, even with the engine off, as you do will listen to the ATIS several times . I have received many belated compliments for using this ATIS method from students who have gone on to IFR copying of the ATIS and clearances.

I suggest writing the ATIS on the hand. I use a + format and let the vertical line represent the runway. In the top left quadrant I put the "name" of the ATIS. At the top of the + I put the runway used for takeoff and landing. In the top right quadrant I put the wind direction and in the bottom left quadrant I put the wind velocity. The lower right quadrant gets at least the last two digits of the altimeter setting. These are the essentials. I may make the vertical part of the + into a runway and draw an vector arrow to show the crosswind direction and velocity. The other ATIS information can be observed or noted without writing. Where an instrument runway number is always on the ATIS, ignore it when it is not the "landing" runway..

Pilots with their heads down have rolled, unknowingly, into other aircraft while copying the ATIS. You do not need to look down at a lap-board as you write the ATIS. It is best to keep your head up and an eye outside the cockpit. Never, never rely on a parking brake.

The student will benefit from getting the ATIS with the engine running at all times. The cost for time on the ground will be recovered many times over in the air. This puts economic, as well as mental pressure, on his ability to WRITE the ATIS first time it is broadcast.

Michael's Introduction,
You will begin using the radio from the very beginning. You can make things easier by skimming through my radio material. Don't try to learn everything at once. We will spend considerable time practicing before we actually use the radio.

The first radio we use is on frequency 124.7. This is the ATIS which means Automatic Terminal Information service. It is always sequenced the same with far more information than you may need.
You can hear this information over the phone by dialing 925 685-4567.

First, it gives the time which in most aviation around the world is based on the time at Greenwich (Pronounced Grenich) England. Your Dad is very good at using this time system. For training purposes we will stick with local time for now.

Second, will be the wind direction. Wind is always given as from a direction to the nearer ten degrees. The degrees are always given as three separate digits.

Third, will be the wind velocity. The velocity is always given in knots per hour instead of miles per hour. One way to make the numbers easier to understand is to think that 7-knots is close to 8-mph. Go to the history section of my web site Page 6.37 and read about the following and you will know more than most pilots (show it to your Dad) … Different Miles and How They Came to Be; … It's About Time; ...Time; … Way to Go; …Measures;

Forth, will be the altimeter setting. The altimeter has an adjustment for changes in air pressure. Since the pressure is constantly changing the pressure and all the other ATIS information is updated hourly or more
often as necessary. The correct setting of the altimeter is very important in every locality so that planes
will properly separated from each other.

Fifth, the ATIS gives, at Concord, the active instrument runway that is always 19R followed by the runway used for landing and departing.

Sixth, all the NOTAMS or Notices to Airmen are given that warn about situations on or about the airport

At the beginning and end of of the message one letter of the phonetic alphabet is used in sequence to identify and separate the message from all previous and subsequent messages. Hourly changes are pretty standard for changes at the 45-minute hack. More frequent changes occur as required.

.925 689-2077 is the automated weather observation system called AWOS. It is activated when the tower is closed, before 6 a.m. and after 10 p.m.

Ground Radio to Taxi
--Never transmit on the radio without practicing what to say while holding the microphone to your lips. It does no good to practice without the microphone. Take a deep breath and get all the words out smoothly without pause or punctuation.
--Don't broadcast until you have mastered what and how to say everything.
--The order of words is often as important as the words themselves. For our convenience all practice will use the ATIS as "Alpha".
…Who you are talking to...
…Who you are...
…Where you are...
…What you want...

This should come out an a smooth series of words without punctuation or pauses. Almost every ATC communication needs to be acknowledged and sometimes repeated back for verification. All runway assignments are to be read back whether on the ground or in the air. A clearance to taxi lets you taxi anywhere on the airport as long as you do not intrude on the runways in use.

Have clearly in mind where you are, where you are going, and the route to get you there. If ever in a situation where you are unfamiliar as to where you are or how to get where you are going on the ground advise the controller. If ever in doubt, ask for help.

This tells the controller that you expect him to advise you where to go and turn as you proceed. It is a sign of professional competence to admit when you require help. It is just as important to know how to get help as it is to know the way. You are going to be landing at many strange airports where the ability to get timely assistance is important.

Departure Radio
After arrival at the runway, a direction of departure must be determined. It is a good practice for the departure communication with the tower to include "on course to (place)" and a request for a time check. This serves as a mini-flight plan which is recorded as well an experience in noting time. It is more specific as to direction with regard to traffic advisories. This departure allows us a direct route if approved by ATC. We don't have to go there, just head in that direction. Read the advisory signs at all airports.

Practice until your call-up comes out smoothly as...
… into position and hold"
This clearance MUST be acknowledged since it confirms our understanding and intention to stop in position.
We say..."85K position and hold"

We must hold until we hear...
…. cleared for takeoff on course (place) approved"

We may takeoff and proceed on course without further acknowledgment.

A possibility is ...
… hold short landing traffic"
You say...
… holding short"

Any clearance using the word "hold" must be acknowledged. (I have taught this procedure for years, it became an FAR in 1992). This means that we may taxi so as to clear the approach area but we may NOT cross the hold bars to the runway.

Arrival Radio
(Airport tower) Cessna (number and position0 at two-thousand eight-hundred with _____ request (arrival and runway) will report …(Airport) ground Cessna (number) clear of the (runway) taxi to …

Non-tower Over Flights
If you have occasion to cross in the vicinity of an uncontrolled airport, it is worth your while to monitor the CTAF frequency and even give sequential reports of your altitude and position in passing. It is only through frequent communication that everyone flying can provide and maintain situational awareness. The radio call you make may save your life.

With the advent of AWOS and ASOS at uncontrolled airports is always a good idea to add to your planned flights the appropriate frequencies so that you can briefly monitor them while en route.  This is the 'One Minute Weather' that is updated every minute giving weather information superior to anything the FSS can offer.  Nice to know information should you need to get on the ground in a hurry.  Nice to know information if it shows weather changes different from what you were told to expect.  When working through a radar facility either VFR or IFR the correct method of advising that you have the runway information at a non-towered airport is to state that you have the local
'One Minute Weather'

Non-tower Operation
Most midair collisions and near misses occur within a couple of miles of non-tower airports.

Every tower airport has a UNICOM on frequency 122.95. The callup gives, "Airport name UNICOM, aircraft identification and request. Commonly used to order fuel, services, or transportation. 122.95 is the universal nationwide UNICOM frequency for TOWER fields. Only at the very largest airports will this frequency operate on a 24-hour basis.

The UNICOM frequency is the one used to order fuel, have a taxi waiting on your arrival, get a rental car, call your family, or any personal request.  Use it or lose it.

Many uncontrolled airports may offer UNICOM service on the CTAF frequency given on the sectional. This means that there may be someone on the field to respond to a radio call during normal working hours.

Giving position reports is an AIM recommended practice. NORDO (no radio) aircraft can't give or hear them. See and be seen is the backup procedure.

The callup
"Name of field UNICOM, aircraft identification, location, altitude, request traffic advisories (or other request) and name of the field." If there is no UNICOM response all further transmissions should be addressed to "traffic".

Intercoms and Headsets
Considering that the interior of a general aviation aircraft at cruise has a noise level at 90dB or equivalent of being within 15' of a heavy-rock band speaker, you should do all that you can to protect your hearing. Noise at this level will damage unprotected hearing. Damage is proportional to the duration and intensity of the noise. Once lost hearing can never be regained by you can protect what is left by using good intercoms and headsets. Hearing is irreplaceable.

When you can't hear'em, you really can't hear'em. In conversation we can lip-read the differences but over a microphone the higher frequencies between 3000 and 6000-hertz are chopped off at about 4000 hertz. Hearing difficulties you may be having may be an equipment problem as well as a biological one. Volume alone will not improve hearing or comprehension. Where there is a conflict of sounds and noises we fail to hear consonants first. The use of a noise-attenuating headset reduces the conflicting sounds. Different headsets are better at different frequencies. Try them out in an aircraft before buying.

Letters 'f' and 's' are most difficult to distinguish. Certain numbers such as seven, zero and six begin with a consonant sound that a person with a high frequency loss may not decipher. Two and three give difficulty, also. If you have subjected your ears to loud sounds such as gun shots, rock music or engine noise you may have temporary threshold shift. Over extended periods such sounds damage the cochlea cilia and cause permanent threshold slips. Once destroyed, the cilia never work again. While some hearing loss is normal with age given reasonable protection good hearing will last a lifetime.

A common pilot fault is completely failing to hear ATC. This is usually caused by over-absorption with the airplane. The post-landing trauma seems to occur at the same time the tower is giving you taxi directions and frequency changes. Usually you will be told to cross an active runway before changing to ground frequency or to hold short and then contact ground. Traffic advisories and sequencing seems to be unheard quite often. Acknowledge communications where you know they are directed to you and ask about any communications where you are uncertain.

A miscommunication either in saying or hearing may be minor or very serious. An ATC facility may record over 100 errors per day. The number one avoidable safety problem on a day-to-day basis is poor radio technique by pilots. A single radio call that should take five seconds will take a minute and three exchanges. An erroneous position report is potentially more dangerous than no report.

Many student pilots believe that by tuning and listening to aircraft radio communications that they will be able to improve their skills. I only wish that this were so. On any given frequency you will hear all levels of competence and incompetence. You are better off not to listen (to ATC frequencies) until your own skills have reached a level to where you can distinguish the good, bad and ugly.

If you use a tape recorder on your flights, you must be sure that your patch cord has the proper impedance. A Radio Shack cord with gray or black connectors will work with a 9-volt portable system. An aircraft hard-wired system operates on 12 or 24 volts and must have a 1-meg resistor installed to prevent overdriving the input to the recorder. The use of a tape recorder is the best way I know to improve learning retention. When you change what you read and hear into your own words it becomes a part of you.

Not every shop is capable of repairing the equipment. Often only factory repair is feasible. Radios are usually built to a technical standard order (TSO) and only repairs to that level meet FAR requirements.

Beginning Basic Radio
As a pilot you should realize that the things you say and the way you say them are capable of being heard by any aircraft within line-of-sight range.  Therefore, it is important that any position given and altitude given be as accurate and precise as you can make it.   Avoid using such terms as mile, over and feet since a flying aircraft is supposed to over something, at an altitude measured in feet and a certain mileage distance from a place.

1999 FAA change regarding: Pilot's responsibility: FAA interpretive rule indicates that since pilots are obligated to maintain a listening watch on appropriate frequencies, they are also responsible for following ATC Instructions even if not heard. 
If you are supposed to be upon a certain frequency in a given airspace or footprint you are responsible for hearing everything said on that frequency.

Talking effective airplane requires the ability to express thoughts using a very specialized vocabulary designed for brevity using a convoluted syntax which emphasizes clarity while requiring assumptions with the expectation that complete and accurate information is being given and understood. Talking airplane means that instead of writing shorthand we are talking it. Not all pilots are equally proficient in talking airplane. Over the years some terminology has been dropped or changed. The incorrect use of a term when used in talking shorthand will completely change the meaning. Still, the best advice for a beginner is, "Do not be afraid to use the wrong words." so much of ATC procedures is 'canned' that it gets easier the longer you use it.

The use of non-standard phraseology, antiquated vocabulary, and politeness can inhibit the verbal and mental exchanges required in flying. The vocabulary of modern aviation gives very special meanings to uncommon words and uncommon meanings to special words. 'Clearance' or 'cleared' is the most common example of this.

As any married person should know, you cannot assume that what you said was understood or even heard on the other side. Important to you may not be equally important to the listener. When talking airplane we must communicate both meaning and importance. As in marriage, the failure to communicate in flying is most often just a minor irritant. But not always. When safety is compromised by the failure of communication, hazards are created for all concerned. You can hear ATC better when you know what to expect. Key words for a failure to hear are, "Say again".

The words, the sequence they are in, and even the way they are said can make critical differences in safety. Good communication promotes cooperation. Time critical information must be exchanged, understood, acknowledged, and appropriately acted upon. Delay in any phase of the exchange, understanding, acknowledgment, or action contains an inherent hazard.  ATC (Air Traffic Control)  on landing may give instructions for getting off the runway and then tell you to contact Ground Control.  You are expected to know that you do not change frequency until you have completed following the taxiing instructions.

There is a moral quality involved in good communications. You must accept that the most likely problem lies under your control. As often as not the volume control. Plan your communications so that your patience will not be tried. Don't wait until the last moment to get through. Allow for the inexperience and skill shortages of others. Hope that other pilots will be as prudent toward you shortcomings.

If you are at all unfamiliar with what to say, say your location, or any other aspect of what to say on the radio, orally rehearse the entire communication process or better yet write it out word for word prior to flight. Over 50% of learning to fly will involve becoming radio capable.

A pilot must have his priorities in order. Getting them in order will vary in difficulty according to background but the sequence of order is indisputable. Talking should never interfere with keeping the airplane in the air, on course and avoiding impact.

Learning how to activate, tune and set radios is the first basic. The more you can reduce the process to fundamental steps and sequence the better. Next comes knowing when to talk. Don't be in such a hurry that you will have things to do when ATC responds. Get everything done ahead of time before practicing your communications. Know when to talk by preparing ahead of time, before you even get into the plane. Practice with the mike to your lips. Always have a writing instrument in you hand because any ATC response is likely to require you to write information down.

There are some general principles to aircraft communications with slight variations between ATC agencies. FSS, radar, ground and towers have slightly different procedures and requirements within the general principles. Always tell an FSS the frequency you are using and the name of the nearest VOR on initial contact. Initial contact with a radar facility will give only your aircraft identification. This will be followed after ATC acknowledgment with location, altitude, and intentions. Tower initial contact contains identification, position, altitude, and intentions or request. Altitude is a part of this to serve, along with position, as a protection from other aircraft.

Who you are talking to
Concord Ground, Napa Tower, Travis approach, Oakland Radio, Rio Vista Unicom, Byron Traffic
Norcal Approach

Who you are
Manufacture/Type of aircraft, full call sign except for N (November) on initial call-up
Student solo add "student pilot" when giving full call sign on initial call-up
Subsequent calls use last 3 elements only

Where you are
East ramp, clear of 32L, between runways, Benicia at 2000, 10 south at 3000

What you want

Taxi with Alpha, landing with Bravo, fly through your airspace at 2000, right crosswind, straight-out, on course...
Request traffic advisories, over (used to approach/departure)

Radio Procedures in Brief
Radio proficiency is demonstrated by use of just a few basics. Tell ATC who you think he is, who you are, where you are, and what you want. The AIM is the primary source of communication information and procedure. If a pilot has not been taught from the very beginning the proper ATC communications and their ever so slight variations in differing agencies the entire process becomes formidable and confusing. It is essential that your communications procedure include a listening watch on frequency prior to keying the transmitter.

The A-B-C-D-E-G airspaces have communication variations overlying the basic similarities above.
Airspace violations is the most frequent reason for loss pilot licenses. 

1. Any aircraft and pilot in Class A airspace must be IFR certified with certain required equipment such as DME above 24,000 MSL. All Class A flight is on an IFR flight plan, this requires constant communication contact, adherence to ATC instructions and IFR clearances.

2. Any aircraft in Class B airspace must be on either a VFR or IFR clearance to enter, properly certified or endorsed as a pilot, and in constant communications contact. All ATC instructions and clearances must be acknowledged and followed unless deviations are authorized. Class C operations are different only in that a clearance is not required for entry, only a contact in which ATC uses your identification. In both B and C airspace you will be going to or from tower and an approach facility.

B and C departures may require contact with an additional Clearance Delivery frequency for departure instructions and transponder squawk. You are required to read back these instructions to ATC. After getting your instructions from Clearance Delivery you go to ground for taxi instructions.

Classes B, C and D airspaces use ground control for safe separation of aircraft in the airport movement areas. Airport movement areas are supposed to be separated from non-movement areas by a double dashed yellow line. Many such areas are still undefined. You can best find an unknown ground control frequency ahead of time from behind the chart legend page or in the A/FD. Most ground frequencies are 121. something. Other than 121. something is only used when they run out of frequencies due to airports in close proximity.

3. Class D airspace exists only when a towered airport is operating with a tower. Radar may or may not be available with some limitations as to available squawks and clearances. Aircraft are required to establish contact and get an arrival sequence prior to entering Class D airspace. No notice to ATC is required on leaving Class D airspace. Many towers have a form of radar known as BRITE (Bright Radar Indicator Tower Equipment) which is a remote display from a radar facility. BRITE is much like a digital TV. It allows the tower to sequence and provide separation. Specific authorization is required for the use of BRITE by a tower. As of mid 2003 Concord and Napa have BRITE in their towers.

An airport tower is responsible for the sequencing of aircraft to and from the active runways. No separation is guaranteed though some may be provided. You are expected to follow all ATC instructions unless you can negotiate a change or declare an emergency. Clearances can be refused.

Class B, C and D airports have Automatic Terminal Information Service. This service gives alphabetically sequenced voice reports, NOTAMS, time of report (Usually 45 minutes after the hour.), sky condition, visibility, temperature and dew point (Celsius), wind direction and velocity, altimeter setting, active runway and IFR approach in use.

Surface wind directions of the ATIS are given as magnetic and in knots. Weather is divided into eighths of a circle or every 45 degrees. A particular obscuration may cover so many octas (eighths) of the horizon in a particular direction. ATIS ceilings are AGL. Ceilings over 5000' and visibilities are omitted.

4. Radio use in Classes E and G are legally optional but any pilot who exercises the option not to communicate or listen is exposing himself and most other aircraft to unnecessary risk.

Radio Preparation
The best way to avoid radio surprises is to pre-compose what you are going to say for each separate situation as it occurs on a flight.

Taxi Call:

Get the ATIS.
Call GROUND give your identification, position,  any request and ATIS name at the end.  If you have understood the ATIS and other aircraft communications you should be aware of what the runway instructions will be as well as any warnings about inbound or outbound traffic. When given a runway assignment you must acknowledge by repeating back the runway assignment.  In 2003 ATC has increased its efforts to avoid aircraft conflicts (accidents) on the ground. You are expected. to read back ALL instructions and at the end give the alphanumeric name of the ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service).  Putting the ATIS name in the body of your message is likely to trigger an ATC response (a requirement of higher officials) requesting if you have ATIS.

Takeoff Call:

Call TOWER, give your identification, position, and a pre-planned departure request to a specific location. If you have been listening to aircraft communications you can anticipate which aircraft poise a conflict and anticipate ATC warnings by including as part of your call that you are looking for traffic...(kind and where) 

Departures, other than a standard 45-degree, must be requested. A straight-out, crosswind, downwind, or 270 will get you going in a general direction. A general direction will not allow ATC to give a traffic warning advisory nearly as well as a specific destination.

The assumption is that both you and ATC are aware of which way your destination may be and that inbound or outbound traffic knows the area well enough to tell if a traffic conflict is going to occur. The way you use the radio will protect you. The way you are able to interpret the radio calls of other aircraft provides even further protection.

Arrival Call:

Get the ATIS. Based on the ATIS, plan your arrival as to reporting point, descent angle, and pattern entry. Practice your call before you arrive at a reporting point. Just as listening to other aircraft prior to and during takeoff will serve to warn you of other aircraft, so will listening for potential traffic conflicts prior to and after your call-up for landing serve to protect you.

Take a deep breath and very smoothly, without punctuation pauses, call the TOWER. Give your identification, position, altitude, and ATIS name. State your arrival intentions or request along with the report that is standard for that arrival. A 45-degree arrival to downwind does not need to be requested. You report turning downwind.  If the tower has BRITE the downwind call may not be required  A straight-in or base entry must be requested and reports are normally made two miles out.

The best call-up begins by giving ATC's identity, your N-number, a statement of your situation (position and altitude or problem, a statement of what you would like to do. At the end give the alphanumeric name of the ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service).  Putting the ATIS name in the body of your message is likely to trigger an ATC response (a requirement of higher officials) requesting if you have ATIS.

You are expected. to read back ALL instructions and acknowledge any information given.   The assertive pilot is always learning about the mistakes of others. The more you know of how another pilot screwed up, the less likely you are to let it happen to you. The highest level of learning is based on the mistakes of others.

This Pilot Is Assertive
A pilot is not a passive bystander; he is and is expected to be an active participant in what is happening. To be an active participant the pilot must know what is going on both in his aircraft and in the space around his aircraft. For many the mantle of command that comes with being a pilot requires a personality adjustment. The pilot is expected to demonstrate a level of communication and self-confidence related to his knowledge of the situation. No pilot should let ATC intimidate him into doing that which he considers unsafe or beyond his competence.

A pilot needs to actively listen to all the words coming over the radio, not just those transmissions directed to his aircraft. Be prepared to "assert' yourself to the level required if a situation arises. Being non-standard is likely to use up twice as much time to say half as much, and you will probably need to repeat all or part of it back if the controller can't rearrange what you say to fit his brain or computer.

Many student pilots put themselves into flight situations where the perceived ATC, the feared ATC, and accepted voice of authority takes command of the aircraft. The same thing happens when the more experienced pilot has failed to absorb the new communications knowledge needed to stay proficient and assertive in 1994 airspace. The pilot needs to know how and when to challenge an ATC clearance when a suggestive level of communication will make things better. Let ATC know if you think a particular situation will be unsafe. Practice and experience can make it a better flying world for the pilot.

This means that you should know what is right and be prepared to support your sense of rightness. This is usually and properly done on the radio. If you think you are right you must be prepared to state your position in a positive, confident and persistent manner. This communication is different from speech tones and words, which imply hostility.

The pilot is expected to use a level of communication and self-confidence related to his knowledge of the situation. A pilot needs to actively listen to all the words coming over the radio, not just those transmissions directed to his aircraft. Being non-standard is likely to use up twice as much time to say half as much.

Six levels of Assertiveness
1. Passive........................ ATC tells you what to do
2. Informational............... ATC says "Approved as requested."
3. Offering alternatives ....You or ATC offers another choice
4. Being critical............... You say your way is better
5. Expressed opposition.. You don't want to do it ATC's way
6. Open conflict............. You won't do it ATC's way. Declare an emergency (Or expect an FAA checkride)

The poorly prepared student or pilot, is all to often, willing to let ATC dominate. ATC can and will make mistakes. The passive pilot acceptance of ATC clearances means that he is just going for the ride. The lowest level of radio proficiency is where the pilot expects to do what ATC says. ATC takes command of the aircraft. The pilot needs to know how and when to challenge an ATC clearance and when a suggestive level of communication will make things better. This means that you should know what is right and be ready to support your sense of rightness. This is usually and properly done on the radio staying inside the boundaries of #2 and #3. ATC has ways to handle those pilots who resort to #4, #5, and #6.

The best, in my opinion, pilot level of communication with ATC begins by giving ATC's identity, your identification, and a statement of your situation (position and altitude or problem, a statement of what you would like to do and finally obtain ATC clearance. If no clearance is obtained you can now turn it up a notch by going into the extreme politeness mode. This fourth level contains implied criticism and should be avoided unless your sense of righteousness is prepared for the next level of confrontation.

Do not anticipate that the levels of assertiveness is a guarantee that nothing will go wrong. The assertive pilot is always learning about the mistakes of others. The more you know of how another pilot screwed up, the less likely you are to let it happen to you. The highest level of learning is based on the mistakes of others.

Talking Airplane
Air Traffic Control has a standardized way of saying things. You are also expected to standardized your radio procedures to conform to the ATC form. However, certain airports do have slightly different procedures used to conform to local conditions. There are a variety of ways to say something on the radio but there is only one best way. The more acquainted you become with the standard procedures the better you can anticipate ATC thinking and communications. I feel that it is much better for the pilot to take charge of the situation by making suggestive requests to ATC.

You must learn the ATC method of communicating. It is a special language that once learned and understood makes everything you say brief, clear, and understandable. To get it right you must rehearse. You rehearse to reduce the number of words, to get all the needed information stated, and to get it out as a smooth unpunctuated stream of words.

Standard radio phraseology and procedures have been developed to maximize the communication time available. Controllers are trained in this but pilots often are not. The pilot training weakness in this area becomes more apparent at the Private Pilot IFR level. Pilots need to maintain the integrity of aircraft communications by knowing and following standard procedures and by knowing where the problems lie. Memorize the standard phrases and ATC responses. Aircraft communication is without most of the punctuation, most of the prepositions and courtesy words used in ordinary speech. Such speech requires a breaking of years of habit patterns. Speak as though it were a telegram with emphasis on clarity, the order of wording and brevity. Don't ask for special favors if it will inconvenience another plane. Being inconsiderate disrupts the system for everyone.

Talking airplane well has to do with using key words in a relatively precise order. For example the inversion of these words in a ground communication will completely reverse the implied intent. ".transient parking taxi or taxi transient parking". Most ATC communications contains 'key' action words that Immediately follow the ACID (aircraft identification attention getter). Expect words like, turn, heading, contact, expect, … The key words are used to get your attention and then direct your actions. Consistent use of the correct words in the correct sequence are those you are most likely to understand.  Be prepared to write

Saying the right thing at the right time goes hand in hand with a pilot who will be in compliance with the FARs and standard operating procedures. He is where he supposed to be in the pattern, performing as Is to be expected. Common mistakes are making misstatements as to distance and giving aircraft heading instead of direction from the facility. It is not unusual for ATC by intonation and vocabulary to help a pilot make a choice that is suited to the controller. 
A frequent example of this occurs in SVFR conditions with a pilot weak in SVFR procedures.  The tower specialist may ask the pilot if there is something 'special' he wants. This situation can be avoided if the pilot is knowledgeable enough to know his options.

ATC controllers like to consider them a professional technicians. Often they perform as craftsmen. It's been said that the sign of a craftsman is the ability to make mistakes appear as though they occurred on purpose. Aircraft separation is the primary product of ATC which is accomplished by selective use of words. Controllers use words designed for their efficiency of time and meaning. There is only so much frequency time available. It is quite easy for a controller to make things more difficult for a pilot who is wasteful of frequency time. It is, likewise, quite easy for an incompetent pilot to bring an otherwise efficient operation into a screaming controller.

A pilot's competence first shows in his communications. Know what to say, when to say it, and most importantly how to say it. Be brief without giving up accuracy and completeness. Mentally rehearse what you are about to say before you say it. ATC will make mistakes, don't hesitate to question an ATC communication that you suspect as being in error.

The use of standard terminology when describing your location in the airport arrival/departure pattern is important. When you hear other traffic you must be aware as to the potential hazard in their location's relationship to yours. Don't hesitate to give your position and altitude as an information check to both other pilots and tower. Tell tower you are looking for reported traffic, have traffic, or negative traffic if unable to locate after 30 seconds. It always helps both the tower and other aircraft if you can include your altitude as well. Always advise if you are at other than a standard altitude by including the word "high" or "low". It never hurts to include the runway designation where there may be a choice between left and right runways.

Should you find yourself flying in a manner that avoids use of the radio, consider that trying to conceal a proficiency deficiency. It is far wiser, safer and cost effective to challenge the situation. Every time you leave out essential information ATC will prompt you to fill in the blank information. A tape of the procedures will help you get it right next time. Make an effort to minimize the use of prepositions. The better your initial call-up the easier will be any subsequent transmissions.

--Always use your identification and avoid unauthorized transmissions.
ATC will let you talk to another aircraft on request.

Know When to Say What and How to Say It.
--Make brief transmissions but do not use contractions such as "can't"

--Use standard formats to say headings, distances and altitudes as separate digits

--"Affirmative" is the only way to say "yes".

--Rehearse aloud before you key the microphone. Use a uniform rate of speech and standard phraseology

--If you have any doubt as to what was said have it repeated by using the term "Say Again" and your call letters.

--Let the world know that you are a student pilot when you are solo.

--When you key the mike it takes a split second before it will record what you say. Don't chop off your beginning by talking too quickly. In reverse the same thing applies when through talking.

--Controllers make mistakes, protect yourself by knowing where you are, where everybody else is, and what you are supposed to do.

Radio Instruction
I orient the student with a pre-selected airport checkpoint for which we have practiced the radio procedure on the ground. I have the student copy the ATIS and practice the call-up. The advantage of using Napa is that the patterns for the 18 runways are directly north, south, east and west. This somewhat simplifies orientation for the student for each leg of the pattern.

--We must be respected, trusted and believed before a student can hear us.
--Process may/should include description, explanation and a diagram.

A typical call-up would be as follows:
"Napa Tower Cessna 6185K Benicia at 2500 with Alpha will report left downwind for 18 requesting closed traffic with the option " (Note: All radio communication is said and written without punctuation.)

The student makes the call-up and will do all the radio work until we are downwind. Prior to solo, the instructor will do all radio work and assume all traffic responsibility. This enables the student to concentrate on his flying. It helps if this can be done at an airport that has parallel runways. Every effort should be made to do as much flying in right turns as in left turns during all instruction and practice.

The instructional practice, at all controlled airports, of having the initial radio call up include such phrases as, "request right base will report two mile base" in anticipation of the ATC clearance serves a dual purpose. It makes the student PLAN the arrival and become more sensitive to the possibility of an ATC error. An additional benefit of this instructional process is that the student can then use his knowledge of airport checkpoints for traffic awareness. An airplane reporting at a point on the other side of the airport can be virtually eliminated as a hazard, whereas your downwind entry may be in conflict with an aircraft reporting two-mile base.

It is best that the pilot operate at the informational level of aircraft communications. You can't give information if you don't know the information to give. This is the radio system that I try to teach my students. It goes beyond a mere AIM call-up by giving altitude, a request and what you expect to do. Further, my students are expected to be capable of operating at the suggestion level. This means that they are capable of making and suggesting a short approach, change runways, make 360s, extended downwind, etc. before ATC sees the need.

When arriving at a tower airport you must plan your communications both as to distance, the speed of your aircraft, and the available reporting points. The faster you are going the further out you should communicate so as to allow the controller to plan your sequence. Additional knowledge of aircraft types and relative speeds will lead to a further refinement of this skill. Usually, between 7-10 miles out from an Class D airspace will allow you time to get the ATIS, listen to tower activity, plan the most economic arrival and make your call-up. Be as exact as to location and altitude as you can. Be sure to practice before you arrive at your call-up point. The only arrival that need not be specifically requested is the downwind entry. If you do not say that you will report downwind, the controller will tell you to make such a report. If the straight in or base entry is desired, it must be requested and the tower will require a two-mile reporting point or call.

Request to overfly above pattern altitude if you are at all uncertain as to how make your entry. Perhaps the most dangerous of all flight situations is to make an airport arrival incorrectly. If you are at all uncertain, go to "slow flight" and ask for assistance from ATC. The willingness and readiness to admit the need for help and to ask for it is the ultimate sign of flying maturity. Only the incompetent pilot thinks he is supposed to know everything and is consequently reluctant to ask for help.

The pilot must be knowledgeable as to his present position in relation to the immediate and neighboring aircraft and space. You can't be comfortable on the radio until you know both what to say and when to say it. The basic principles of communications are the same everywhere in the system. It is important to practice before actually keying the microphone.

A checkpoint call-up difficulty is when there are no good (known) visual points for your call-up. Then it is necessary for the pilot to advise ATC by compass direction. FIRST, make sure the heading indicator is correctly set with the compass. THEN, locate the direction to an identifiable location such as the airport. NOW, note the opposite side of the heading indicator and the location of one or two of the letters N, S, E, W. relative to this point. If a single letter is within 10 degrees you use that letter. If this opposite point is between two of the letters you use terms such as NE, NW, SE, or SW. Do not try to please ATC by agreeing with a suggestion such as, "Are you NE of the airport?" without confirming with the heading indicator. IF YOU ARE UNCERTAIN or UNFAMILIAR, say so.

For differing reasons some pilots have difficulty orienting themselves. Draw a diagram of the airport with pertinent checkpoints at two and five miles. Go over the arrivals on the diagram one runway at a time. Be prepared to fly with ATC approval, a two-mile and five-mile circle around the airport at 2000' with the student. Point out the checkpoints used for arrivals for straight in, 45's to downwind, and base entries to the various runways.

The position of the runway number on the heading indicator should be taught as an indicator to runway arrival. For a downwind 45-degree entry, with the aircraft pointing toward the landing end of the runway, the number of the runway will be at the right or left rear 45-degree mark on the heading indicator. For a base entry the number of the runway will be at the right or left 90-degree mark on the heading indicator. For the straight in the runway number will be on the nose of the heading indicator. An airport diagram should be studied both before and after the flight. 

If your heading indicator has a heading bug, set it to the wind direction when taxiing and to the runway heading for departures and arrivals.  This will help you to hold the yoke while taxiing and make the airport pattern more accurately.

You should know your home airport better than any others. You should have checkpoints that give straight-in, bases, and 45-degree downwind entries for any runway. You should know all the reportable points in arcs of two, beyond five, ten, and fifteen miles around your airport. You should also have clearly in mind the safe, obstacle, noise abatement, and minimum altitudes for all directions on these arcs. You should become knowledgeable as to the high traffic areas for local aircraft, transient aircraft, helicopters, etc.

The student will be given the radio for making the departure request. The student will be coached again on the return flight as to checkpoints and radio procedures to be used. The procedure for determining the most economical airport arrival was discussed before departure. Hopefully, things work out as planned, if they don't adjustments will need to be made. This process of changing airport arrival plans is an important part of the process.

Once you have landed and are clear of the runway make contact with ATC. Do not proceed until you are cleared and FULLY understand your taxi route. If you require constant taxi assistance, ask for it. Do not taxi into an unknown situation. The way you ask ATC for assistance and your willingness to do so is a sign of competence.

Types of pilots on the radio
Radio Star

Majored in public speaking. Punctuates everything said. Uses all prepositions and adjectives to excess.

Mike Fright
Hesitant speech pattern with long pauses and non-verbal noises.

Mental Telepathy
This pilot leaves out essential information in the believe that ATC has
the required experience to know who he is, where he is, and what he wants to do.

How Abouts
This creative pilot would take over ATC's prerogative of controlling aircraft and offer his "how about' suggestions as to how things could be done his way.

Car 54
This pilot doesn't know where he is. He doesn't know how to tell ATC that he is geographically misplaced. He tells what he sees instead of where he is.

Don't Answer If It's the Wrong Number
Dangerously similar aircraft call signs can be the cause of a disaster. A mix-up is most likely to occur at the worst possible time. The problems' source can be on either end of the process, ATC or pilot. Numbers are a constant source of radio problem because they are used for altitude, airspeed, directions, frequency and x-ponder codes as well as tail numbers. Transposition is the most common occurrence.  It is important for the pilot to catch errors in his call sign  and correct them as soon as they occur. Similar numbers are easily confused as 300, 330, and 030 when giving headings.

We hear and ATC hears what they expect to hear. It is fairly common the 'hear' what you expect when it is not even said. This is called selective hearing. Careful listening and careful read back is essential. When the situation becomes stressful, cut down on the excess of technology you are scanning. KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. Under overload you will lose your system of checking the instruments and the checklist. Careful listening to the radio even under stress can ease the communications load. You will pick up when ATC is talking to someone other than yourself. Whenever you have any doubt, call for confirmation and give any read back with your full aircraft identification. Being certain is a great stress reducer.

ATC communications are designed to be a logical flow of information. Anything unusual stands out. When possible always read back transmissions. If you get it wrong you will be corrected. If you don't know what to say, stick to approved phraseology. ATC has short attention spans but long memories. Better to ask for help and not need it, than not to ask for help when you need it.

If ever in doubt ...verify.

Precision Radio
Just as you need to prepare for your initial call-up to the controller, so does the controller need to prepare for your arrival. Make your call-up from a given checkpoint that will enable you and ATC to arrange a planned arrival.

Certain elements of conversation are assumed and need not be repeated or augmented by additional words. Once contact is established, there is no need to keep addressing ATC by name each time. If you indicate a certain location on the ground or in the air, you should elaborate your intentions only if they are other than to taxi or land. Most of your intentions are very predictable by ATC, just as are most ATC instructions. On initial call to ground control there is no need to include such words as, "Taxi for takeoff." When making arrival call up there is no need to include the word, "Landing".  Always confirm if any ambiguity exists.

It's proper to acknowledge ATC transmissions with the last three alphanumeric of your aircraft. As a student it is better for you to read back all instructions. "Wilco" means that you understand and will comply with the instructions but this is not as assuring to ATC as a complete read back. By common practice a clearance to takeoff may not require an acknowledgment. If you feel that you cannot comfortably comply with an ATC clearance due to lack of knowledge, understanding, or familiarity just say, "Unable". ATC will then try to come up with an alternative. This is a much better option than flying blindly ahead. Unexpected maneuvers in the pattern of an airport are sure to get you an FAA invitation.

The Safety of Radio Flight Operations
--Transmission of a call sign attached to information given using standard terms, technique, and format.
--Receipt of the information by careful listening and an accurate read back or acknowledgment.
--Confirmation of the acknowledgment and read  back. Never assume a clearance look for inconsistencies. Learn from mistakes of others.
--At any of these three points a "verify" transmission regarding uncertainties is always appropriate regardless of how busy traffic may be.

Notice Effective 8-30-95
A pilot's read back of taxi instruction with the runway assignment can be considered confirmation of the runway assignment." The foregoing is a new FAA required read back when given a clearance to taxi by ground control or tower. This ruling is effective throughout the United States   Don't give a read back if you don't know how to get to the runway.

Communication Problems
Communication problems tend to appear at the same places. Some, such as similar aircraft identification, altitudes and headings will always be there. Using your aircraft manufacturer as an addition to your call sign is a good preventive for such identification mistakes. Clear enunciation and the elimination of jargon and non-professional phraseology can reduce hear-back and read-back differences. Headings are always given as three digits. The "usual" spring loaded clearance you always get may not be there this time. Don't be too quick to key the radio. You will have plenty of time if you have planned and practiced your radio procedures far enough ahead.

If ATC should give a clearance involving checkpoints or procedures with which you are unfamiliar, state "unfamiliar" immediately and provide the level of information with which you are familiar. The immediateness with which you do this is important since the sooner you provide ATC options the better it will be for you.

Certain verbiage is best avoided as antiquated, inaccurate, excessive, or unnecessary. "Roger" does not mean "yes", "affirmative" means "yes". Certain words should be omitted because they are obvious. "This is", "With you" are excess terms repeating the obvious and should not be used. The more overs, outs, wilcos, no joys, rogers, and with you the more amateurish it sounds in today's communications. Position is always said before altitude. "Feet" is never included in giving altitude. At 2000 feet can be shortened to at 2000 because "feet" is the only possible meaning. "Miles" are not given as part of a distance. Ten miles north should be said as ten north since no other meaning can be implied. "Over" is not given as part of a geographical position. Over Benicia should be said as Benicia, in an airplane you are obviously "over" a given reporting point.

Metathesis errors occur when your tongue can't keep up with your mind. Metathesis means that you have transposed or switched things around. Very often metathesis will result in a 'spoonerism'. The best way to avoid metathesis problems is to practice aloud what you expect to say in its entirety.

Certain communications require special attention because of the frequency that misunderstanding or noncompliance occurs. "Hold short...", "Cancel...", "Amend..." are most likely to occur at times of reduced anticipation. The unexpected is least likely to be heard. It may not be possible to hear if simultaneous transmissions obliterate everything to a squeal. In early 1992, I and a competent pilot both missed repeated calls to cancel a takeoff. Neither of us heard anything over the radio until out of 500'. Tower tapes, however, recorded the several calls to cancel takeoff. It happens. It is only belatedly that "how" it happened can be figured out. The advent of "data link technology' is supposed to act as a preventative. (Refer to NASA contractor Report 166462.) Later found that volume control knob has less than 1/16th inch turn between hearing and not hearing.

Always listen to the frequency before speaking. Allow time for response to a call before keying the mike. If two microphones are keyed at the same time a whistle on the frequency occurs effectively blocking everybody. Always have prepared what you are going to say and say it with the most economy of words sufficient for clarity. If ATC communicates to you but does not allow sufficient time for your response or acknowledgment, don't. If, at any time, you are unsure of what to do, do not understand an ATC clearance or command, or do not have advised traffic, communicate. If ATC fails to understand or has trouble understanding you, use different terms and words to say the same thing.

If you are new to the airport or area let ATC know on your first call up by using the word "UNfamiliar" with emphasis on the 'UN'. There is a significant difference if what you say includes, "...East Ramp taxi"...from " East Ramp." If you know the controller is going to give you an advisory or reporting point, include this information in your call up. ATC will adjust their thinking and communications to the situation once you have admitted your lack of familiarity.

If you don't know where you are or what the common checkpoints in use at the airport are, say so. Giving a distance and radial from a VOR is another way. The controller may have you over-fly so he can identify you and set up your arrival. You may request this option instead of having him make the decision for you.

If visibility is a factor, turn on your landing lights and fly so the light is visible from the tower. Include in your radio work that you are "showing a light" until you are identified. It is often difficult for ATC to determine your runway alignment for parallel runways. If another aircraft is in conflict relative to your position don't hesitate to give a progressive call as to your position and altitude. The orientation of your arrival in the early morning or late afternoon may determine whether your or ATC has the visibility advantage. When you are having difficulty seeing or locating let ATC know that you have a problem.

When you are given an advisory while arriving or departing an airport or you hear another aircraft report a location that may be in conflict with your route, don't wait or expect for ATC to tell you about it. They may or may not warn you. Immediately, advise ATC of your position, altitude, and whether you are level, climbing or descending. You are not really talking to ATC. You are advising the other pilot by an indirect communication. This is just one of the flying procedures that makes it possible for a pilot to become an old pilot.

There will be occasions when you do not have the frequency that is most appropriate for your situation. It is important that you know alternate means to acquire appropriate frequencies. This is especially important If you are a VFR pilot without ready access to IFR frequencies, know that any FSS will have access to a frequency that will get you in contact with a facility even if not on the correct frequency.

The student who has insufficient experience, study, or question asking is apt to be unfamiliar with many radio terms. If you should hear a term with which you are unfamiliar, say so. Use the term "other words' in a request such as, "Say again, other words." Words such as abeam, abort, acknowledge, advise, expedite, intentions, option, closed traffic, go ahead, unable and others need to be explained to and understood by the student as they apply to ATC and his operations. CALL 1-(800) USA-AOPA for copy of ABC's of Aviation of 78 confusing aviation terms.

Communicating problems
The better a pilot is able to tell others about a situation the more likely the situation is not to become the lead in to an accident. Good talkers can overcome problems where poor talkers let small mistakes create accidents. You can talk your way out of a pre-accident sequence. The use of resource management beyond the cockpit is a vital skill.

I can think back over numerous accidents that need not have happened had the pilot just been able to say the right thing and ask the right questions. Communications in a complex field like flying must be clear and unambiguous to make sure that all involved are working from the same page. Assertiveness is a required attribute in asking questions, giving directions and seeking help.

Do not get personal. Leave the person you are addressing an opening to make an advisory suggestion. Look for options. You are responsible for getting all available information before taking action.

Years of experience have shown that pilots who are capable of competent communications when in difficulty are more likely to overcome adverse conditions and break the accident sequence. A part of communication is the making of an inquiry as a means for seeking information. Failing to seek information can and has led to the failure to take assertive action. Likewise, it is equally important that you communicate in a clear manner what is known or believed to be true. Resource management goes beyond the cockpit.

When asking for help
1. "I have a problem"
2. State the facts as they seem to be.
3. Suggest an alternative
4. "What would you do?"

Communication Faults
Aircraft radio communications are subject to several kinds of commission and omission errors. A significant part of the problem comes from the overwhelming volume of radio traffic at specific 'rush hour' times. Add to this volume pilot/controller fatigue, inexperience, and distractions. If you ever fly into this situation, go in prepared to talk, listen, and read back. Ask for verification if you have any doubt in understanding, orientation, assignment, or traffic. Use standard communications terms and procedures. Do not rely on ATC to protect you.

Today's flying requires good radios and good radio procedures. Additionally, it helps to frost your radio work with good planning and patience. The constraints of the ATC communications system are being stretched more and more. It only takes one pilot who is incompetent to cause a breakdown. Interestingly, it is not the students under training who are most likely to cause a problem. A pilot under stress is very apt to mis-communicate or step on someone's words. The adrenaline of stress can change words to babble.

Even experienced pilots, myself included, rehearse what I am going to say, And the way I am going to say it. If the frequency is relatively clear I will include a request and my expectations. Otherwise, I keep it brief and concise. Knowing how to adjust to the system in your communications is a skill that the controllers can recognize and appreciate. The value of a given word is inversely proportional to the number of words spoken.

Common mistakes
--Beginning to talk before keying the microphone so first word or so is missed. Talking with out listening for frequency to clear first.
--A transmission is lost due to interference from another transmission.
--Radio procedures, terminology, phraseology and enunciation
--Confusion due to similar call signs or being unfamiliar with your call sign. Not picking up on the presence of a similar aircraft call sign.
--Missed call sign so that acknowledgment or read back is not done.
--Controller failure to require acknowledgment or read back. Procedures, read back, hear back
--Message not sent by equipment or individual. Solution by technology
--Receiver not monitoring due to frequency, volume, or distraction. Monitor the frequency a while so you get some idea of
what to expect.
--Message intercepted by wrong receiver. No call sign given.
--Hearing what you expect to hear not what is said. Misinterpretation due to having your mind spring-loaded for what you
expect to hear. Listen, analyze
--Incomplete transmission due to keying, interference, or equipment. Most often pilot fails to compress information into
key words. Requires multiple contacts to complete message.
--Information such as numbers transposed. Accepting a remark regarding traffic at an altitude as an altitude assignment.
The shear number of numbers given over the radio is but a prelude to human mistakes. Letters can be confused.
B,C, D, E, G, P, T, V, Z. Pairs of letters subject to confusion are IY, FS, MN, A, J, K. You hear what you expect
to hear.
--Non-standard terminology.
--Communication too early/late. Delay request for assistance or declaring emergency until it is too late for ATC to help you.
--English a second-language
--Contextual specific terms (unfamiliar visual checkpoints)
--Jargon or acronyms specific to area or aircraft.
--Giving excess information before establishing contact with a radar facility or FSS. Most common when you just want
information and proceed to make a long story out of it. In such situations just give your identification followed by "request".
--When getting handoff failing to give altitude reference as, climbing, descending, level.
--Not saying 10,000' as "one zero, ten thousand" and 11,000' as "one one, eleven thousand"
--Failing to advise ATC of flight conditions and fuel remaining.
--ATC does not want a read back of information or 'expect' statements. Stick to the essentials.
--Time is the only commodity that ATC has. They will waste enough time for everybody. They don't need any help from you.
--Don't abrogate your responsibility for the safety of your flying by talking.

The radio and traffic awareness
All too often you will hear another aircraft or have one pointed out that you can't find but is in apparent conflict with your flight path. It is time be assertive on the radio. Make a call giving your position and altitude to warn both ATC and the other pilot. Be aware, that many pilots report their position as what they can see over the nose and not what is below.
Prior to Taxi
--Listen for clearances given to other aircraft
--Write and draw the ATIS wind direction and velocity
--Determine 'your' crosswind capability
--Read back your taxi clearance entirely
--Seek confirmation of any doubts you may have.
--Don't hesitate to ask for longer or different runway
--Wait for any possible wake turbulence to clear

--Listen to information related to departing and arriving aircraft.
--Make your departure request so that other aircraft know where to look for you.
--Turn to clear both the final approach and base legs.
--Use your pretakeoff list; Flaps, Fuel, Pump, Prop, Mixture, Transponder, Time (FFPPMTT)
--Don't waste runway behind you.
--Know the local ordinances regarding turns and noise abatement.
--Cruise climb above 100' for cooling.
--Know your options in case of engine problems.
--Make clearing maneuvers while climbing
--Don’t forget to open your flight plan.

En route
--Monitor nearby frequencies especially of nearby airport AWOS/ASOS.
--Monitor Flight Watch 122.0 for en route weather
1000-foot clean up
--Know the proper way to get into the en route system.
--Get traffic advisories
--Know what to say to get flight advisories in the radar system.
--Fly airport vicinity routes
--Know the proper way to repeat back a radar handoff.
   "123 going to Norcal Approach at 125.25"
--Know the proper way to report a handoff
   "Norcal Approach 123 level at (alltitude)
--Know the proper way to respond to an advisory
--Know the proper way to get a two-minute frequency change
   "123 request 2-minute frequency change to FSS will report back"
--Know how and when to get out of the system.
   "123 Request frequency change will squawk VFR"
--Don’t accept a vector that turns you into weather.
"Unable VFR  using the vector, suggest..." 

--Monitor local radio frequencies, towers, UNICOMS and AWOS.
--Keep your engine warm.
--Don't forget to close your flight plan.  (Wallet in wrong pocket)
--Get the ATIS early and plan your call-up point and arrival.
--Use your call-up to include your position, altitude, request and intentions
--Enter the traffic pattern slightly high and wide.
--Don't accept a runway that you see as a problem.
--Readback all runway and hold short assignments

--Don't leave the runway by turning on another runway until cleared to do so.
--Taxi past the hold bars before stopping and cleaning up the aircraft. (checklist)
--Read back all tower instructions while the ground or in the air.
--Don't leave tower frequency until told to do so.
--Read back all ground instructions while on the ground
--Stay on the yellow lines.
--Listen on ground for inbound and outbound taxiing traffic

Emergency Location at Work
You should know that the General Aviation ELT technology is such that it will be hours before the ELT will actually activate a search. Average time is two hours before search begins. Up to 50 hours before search begins is not unusual. Having a cellular phone is a better option. /Call /afrcc 800/851-3051 for starting an immediate search. ELT's are destroyed or fail to operate 75% of the time. Accident activation rate is only 12% with a 97% false alarm rate. There are 30,000 ELT activations a year. 835 are valid.  Put this phone number on or in your emergency list/kit

1-800 851 3051

T U V - J K L1 - D E F -           0 -           J K L –  1
Mnemonics used to remember the phone number that might save your life.
    8         5        1         3                  0                5         1
Eight (8) P-51s found  thirty (30) P-51s.

Using the FSS
Here is a link to a zip file containing a kneeboard-formatted Excel sheet of the direct FSS numbers:

1. Have a flight plan form
2. Give your flight specifics to specialist using form sequence
3. Use airways and intersections known to the system
4. Make an FSS visit that will help you understand the process
5. Use correct radio procedures:
Callup: "Oakland radio Cessna 1234X listening 122.35", wait 30 + seconds before repeating callup
Body: Aircraft type, position, altitude, and requested information
6. Use AIM 5-1-1 and 7-1-3 for how to get briefing
7. Use Flight Watch on 122.0
Callup: "Oakland Flight Watch Cessna 1234X' Williams VOR" The nationwide frequency is the same.
Always give your location as the closest VOR. This will allow the specialist to select the proper radio to
use for your area.
8. It is wise to be familiar with the DF procedure even though radar has mostly displaced its use. (Obsolete??)
9. Use and VFR flight plan and know how it works, how to make changes, and how and when to close it.

A Bit of Terminology:
RCOs, Remote Communications Outlets, are used by FSSs, not by ATC.
RCAGs, Remote Communications Air/Ground Facilities, are used by ARTCCs. Air Route Traffic Control Center
RTRs, Remote/Transmitter/Receivers, are used by Terminal ATC facilities.

Stuck Mike Switch
Every so often an aircraft gets a stuck microphone switch. It is difficult to know when this has happened to you. The warning clue is when you do not get a response to your calls or when there is no communication over the frequency. When this occurs it blocks the entire frequency. The stuck mike switch causes a problem that annoys the rest of the airwave world but not the pilot. The pilot has no way of knowing that he has a problem that is creating a problem for everyone else. Maintain a listing watch. If you don't hear voices where voices should exist start suspecting that you are the problem. You cannot hear anyone when your mike is stuck.

First check the squelch to see if it hisses. Pulling the volume knob in many radios overrides the automatic squelch. Unplug all your mike connections and try the hand held radio or the hand mike. If you happen to fly into a situation where a stuck mike, not yours, is blocking the frequency you will hear a loud whistle. The usual thing to do is to go back to the last frequency used and advise them of the situation and your intentions. A preferred approach might to be going to the next frequency that you expect to use and advise them of the situation and your intentions. In some circumstances, such as airport arrival, this latter method seems better.

Emergency Communications (C,C,C,C)
For improved transmission/reception, radar coverage and possible Directional Finding (nearly obsolete) even a couple of hundred feet more altitude can make a significant difference. Squawk an appropriate code such as 7700 if an aircraft emergency exists, 7600 if total or partial radio failure occurs.

Remain on your present contact frequency. Otherwise, go to 121.5 and communicate as must of the following as
--Emergency say, "Mayday, mayday, mayday"
--An urgency say, "Pan-Pan, Pan-Pan, Pan-pan
--Name of station or "Any station receiving"
--Aircraft type and identification

--Nature of distress or urgency
--Intentions and request
--Position, heading, last known position, time and heading since that position
--Weather conditions
--Fuel condition in hours and minutes
--Number of people aboard
--Any pertinent information

Obey ATC
--Ask questions
--Avoid FAR violations if possible
--Violate FARs only after declaring an emergency

Avionics Capability
--Manufacturer makes a difference; some are better than others.
--Installation makes a difference check references
--Maintenance very much depends on the comprehensiveness of the pilot's information and description
--Operation depends on proper voltages, shut down procedures, use of controls, air filters and use of switches.
--Preflight of antennae for security and cleanliness

Cockpit Radio
--A weak battery will cause radio problems.
--Advise avionics shop if any other aircraft maintenance has occurred recently.
--Know how avionics is supposed to work so you can detect problems.
--Pre-set all avionics knobs as part of your preflight. Special attention to volumes and idents
--Radio talk should be all facts without unnecessary words
--Extra words waste time
--Radio time is the currency of the ATC specialist.
--Avoid the minor parts of speech; preopsitions, articles, conjunctions, adjectives and adverbs.
--Operational erros due to radio are most apt to occur when things are slow.
--Avoid, "With you" , "Taking the active", Over (a location), "mile/miles", "feet",
--Listen, think, and talk in that order
--In uncontrolled airport patterns give type of aircraft and omit call sign.

Communications Briefly
--ATIS, ASOS, AWOS frequent updates, phone access, determine VFR/IFR
--Ground gives taxi, tower en route, IFR to VFR on top clearances
--Tower requires two way com, gives traffic advisory, SVFR, arrival and departure clearances.
--Approach/departure radar control gives IFR pop-ups, traffic advisories, sequencing vectors and restrictions.
--IFR priority over VFR, flight advisories,
--FSS handles weather briefings, flight plans opened and closed, pre-filed IFR plans, 122.2 and 121.5
--Flight Watch gives/takes PIREPS and in-flight weather advisory. 122.0 nation wide 135.7 high altitude

Your Flight Service Station can give you the phone number for any operating AWOS in the country.  For example Byron AWOS, 20 miles from CCR, can be phoned at 1-800-925-634-0906.  For security purposes the AWOS is land-line only. 
The basic difference between these two automated weather systems is: 
--ASOS is a product of a National Weather Service (NWS), Department of Defense (DoD) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) joint venture. ASOS is comprised of a standard suite of weather sensors (with several exceptions) all procured from one contractor.

--AWOS is a suite of weather sensors of many different configurations that were either procured by the FAA or purchased by individuals, groups, airports, etc. that are required to meet FAA standards to be able to report weather parameters. AWOS can be purchased from three different contractors in the United States.

Talking to Flight Watch
If you talk to EFAS (Flight Watch) while airborne, you will get true winds, not magnetic. That seems to be the only exception to the airborne is magnetic rule.

Talking the New Talk
According to CAP413 (The UK CAA RT manual)
Aircraft call signs, altimeter settings, flight levels (except FL100) , headings, wind speeds/directions, transponder codes and frequencies, each digit shall be transmitted separately, examples:

18 knots WUN AIT KNOTS

All numbers used in the transmissions of altitude, height, cloud height, visibility, runway visual range information that contain whole hundreds and whole thousands shall be transmitted by pronouncing each digit in the number of hundreds or thousands followed by the word HUNDRED or TOUSAND as appropriate. Combinations of thousands and whole hundreds shall be transmitted by pronouncing each digit in the number of thousands followed by the word TOUSAND and the number of hundreds followed by the word HUNDRED; examples:


About Closing Your Flight Plan
FAA policy stresses the use of flight plans for all flights over 50 miles.

Procedure followed when flight plan not closed:
--Over due when 30-minutes late for ETA.
--Search and rescue begins …
--Destination FSS sends a QALO (request for info) to every ATC facility along route
--Destination FSS sends (INREQ) information request to all ATC facilities
--AFRCC (Air Force Rescue Coordination Canter is notified.
--With no INFO, and 60 more minutes…
--Destination sends an alert notice (ALNOT) to ATC facilities within 50 miles of route.
--All facilities do communications search of every airport
--This starts visual search of airport called a ramp search.
--All aircraft in the area are requested to monitor 121.5 for ELT transmissions.
--An hour after the ALNOT the Air Force takes charge of the search with use of Civil Air Patrol.
--Expect to be sent the bill for the search costs.

Radio Use During Semi-Emergency
There has been a small but important change to the "Aeronautical Information Manual" (AIM), designed to help pilots communicate an urgent situation without declaring an emergency. 

When in contact with ATC, pilots can use the word "immediately" to avoid an imminent situation.

 The change was based on the analysis of accidents by ASF and the FAA. Weather situations such as icing, heading changes near thunderstorms, and weather where an IFR clearance is needed quickly may all qualify for some extra ATC consideration. ASF recommends using the "I-word" as required, but realize that by then you may have let things go too far. ASF also recommends that pilots file a NASA ASRS report so that others can learn.

If you've ever needed to get down on the ground fast but the situation wasn't dire enough to declare an emergency, now you have an option. AOPA reports a small change in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) that allows pilots to get the message across without scrambling fire trucks and the "Live at 5" news vans. Now, you can use the word "immediately" to communicate an urgent desire. Situations that could fall under the umbrella of "immediately" might include needing a higher or lower altitude to escape icing, or encountering IMC and needing a clearance.

The most common thread that I see in the responses of my friends is the surrender of PIC status to ATC. I do not believe in nor practice this surrender in my teaching.

When contacting ground I will use the assertive level of suggestion preceded by the word 'request' to get both the runway and route that I desire. Only when I am unfamiliar will I surrender my PIC status. I teach my students the same process.

When contacting tower I call the departure procedure that will extend the knowledge of the controller. Straight-out, crosswind, downwind, eastward, etc departures have such a broad range of direction that listening pilots have little guidance as to where to look. I insist my students select an airport toward which they will head, even if not going there and say, "R/L turn on course Podunk." This also serves as a mini-flight plan since what is said is recorded by ATC.

For my Pre-solo radio exercise I phone the tower and ask that they expose my student to anything that they might meet during their solo flights at a tower. This includes unexpected change of runway, go-around, extension of downwind, ATC will call your base, request ATC to call base, square your base, modify your base, make 270, 360, 180, fly heading... If ATC should give me/my student a procedure not desired, I teach the student to suggest an alternative. Example, at Oakland the other day, there were too many aircraft in the pattern to allow several aircraft to depart the runway. We were told to make a full stop to allow spacing. I had my student say, "How about we make a right turn on course Concord." ATC was happy with the suggestion.

When dealing with radar facilities my initial call-up often is given as a 'request'. After acknowledgement I specify an intermediate altitude such as 2800 AGL along with tracking and turning maneuvers as flight and navigational designed to teach and practice specific skills. The ability to this in a radar environment is a significant improvement in safety, in my opinion. I have never, repeat never, had ATC fail to allow me to do this.

The greatest problem derived from this type of instruction is that ATC expects my students to fly in complex airspace at a skill level commensurate to their radio skills.

Recently (2004) I neglected to use the word request when planning to do closed traffic with the option.  The Controller brought me up short by saying, "Are you asking me or telling me?"

I immediately inserted the word, "requesting".
Gene Whitt

Appended to the 'Clearance' Discussion
The pilot-in-command of an aircraft derives his authority and obligations from historical naval standards. Ships and aircraft have inherent operational dangers and both operate in environmentally dangerous situations. The captain of a ship has absolute power, as does the pilot-in-command extending to death. This level of power is necessary because the highest possible power level is the power of life and death. There is no other place on earth where so much power and trust rests in one man when in this command domain.

Being a pilot-in-command relies on three principles: authority, responsibility and accountability. The primary root principle is authority. Such authority is delegated only for a short time to ATC, only in line of duty, and only as defined by custom and law. It can be reclaimed at any moment. (Think emergency) The authority rests in the title and certificate, not in the individual, never for very long, never as a right but as a privilege, and always within governmental bounds.

The second root principle is that of responsibility. Based upon trust, responsibility includes the craft, its contents, crew, and passengers. The care and well being rests in the willing acceptance of this responsibility by the pilot.

The pilot-in-command will answer for all actions that take place under his authority. This accountability extends beyond the usual legal limits and applies whether or not he is directly responsible. He is responsible because only he has all the authority, responsibility and accountability. He who is accountable must live within the applicable justice system. Any dereliction of duty, misuse of power, failure to perform or deficiency of knowledge even if of those under his command will reflect on his office. Any misdeed or error of those under his badge of authority will reflect on his person and office. Every fault is rightfully and inevitably his. Like a ship captain the pilot-in-command, regardless of extenuating circumstances, is accountable, utterly and alone, for every maneuver made.

Knowing Your Situation by Radio
It has been a common practice of mine, when flying with a pilot for the first time to review or uncover how the pilot's perception of places far and near. I begin with North. In California, the north of most roads has very little to do with the actual direction of major parts of the roadway. For this reason I begin with a 360 point out of how to get to major cities along with the expected heading. Rarely are pilots within 30 degrees. Next I make a run through the call-up points for 45-entries to downwind, base and straight-in for all commonly used runways. Finally I run through the two-mile reporting points commonly used at Concord.

A pilot must have a full deck of cards to play the situational awareness airport game. Just knowing where you are is not going to be of significant traffic avoidance value. To successfully avoid other inbound and outbound traffic you must have knowledge of the other reporting points around the airport. Your understanding of aircraft speeds, potential conflicts between a base and straight-in or a base and a downwind can make a difference for all concerned. For me a classic controller ploy solved three different landings. I was on two-mile right base in a small Cessna. A King Air was turning down wind and a Citation Jet was on four--mile final. The controller told me to maintain altitude and overfly the final approach course; the King Air was told to make a short approach and cleared to land. As I overflew the landing King Air I was instructed to execute a left-270 and cleared to land on the left parallel runway. The Jet and I touched down and rolled out together on parallel runways. Just like a three-dimensional chess game.

Other points have importance directly related to your present position and planned route. Initially, a number of all radio calls can be tossed out if the departure route is away from you. Likewise, most arrivals will be avoiding common departure routes. The exception to this is for IFR arrivals when only limited procedures are available. When VFR departures conflict with IFR arrivals, the IFR aircraft will be restricted as to descent altitudes and missed procedures. Only by actively monitoring the radio frequency can you make the mental decisions required for traffic avoidance. By requesting a different runway, changing speed or making a circling request can you participate in avoiding traffic. By your participation you can expect an appreciative remark from the controller.

9/11 Changes Victor Guard & Uniform Guard Frequencies
Victor Guard
Refers to VHF 121.5 emergency frequency

Uniform Guard
Refers to UHF 243.0 (military)

ATC/Pilot Radio Technique (RT} Discipline
Listen first
--Reduce frequency congestion and blocked transmissions
--Clear, concise, correct and unambiguous
--Use of approved words and phrases to ensure receipt and understanding

--Accurate, brief and clear
--Understood, accepted and adherence

--Communication errors the most common in-flight accident cause
--ATC errors of coordination or relaying.
--ATC errors of non-standard technique or phraseology
--ATC trains for clear unambiguous with standard phraseology

--Readback and Hearback errors of two types:
--Pilot reads back incorrectly
--Pilot gives ATC faulty information

--Use full call-sign unless ATC has shortened
--On initial call give altitude and any clearance altitude

--On handoff give altitude, and expected change, if any
--Altitude calls give ATC check and others awareness
--Heading, speed and altitude with degrees, knots and thousands (Level)
--Any uncertainty is ALWAYS verified by asking.
--Read Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) and Air Traffic Control Manual, FAA Order 7110.65

--Instructional limit of ATC best at three or less in one call.
--All hold sort instructions MUST be read back.
--ATC must receive, listen and verify this read back.

Revisiting Radio Procedures
--The best is always clear, concise, correct and unambiguous.
--Results in understanding, acceptance and adherence.
--Reduces congestion and blocked transmissions.
--Uses only ‘approved’ words and phraseology.
--Radio situations most common cause of aircraft accidents, operational errors and runway incursions.
--Readback and hearback errors by pilot or controller major source of problems.
--Always query if in doubt or if an cockpit disagreement occurs.
--Coordination errors occur during relay of information from controller to controller.
--Pilot must be alert for coordination errors since an ATC error may kill you.

Example: Once on a flight under the SFO class Bravo I was told to fly direct to mid-span of the San Mateo Bridge. It took three quires by me and an instruction to make an immediate left turn to clear the SFO approach corridor to safely proceed. The problem lay in the definition of a bridge and a causeway. My Florida experiences separated the two. Whereas, California ATC treated them as all part of one bridge. I made a NASA report on this.

–Problems exist where aircraft with similar call-signs cause confusion and mis-directed information.
--Always tie your call-sign to even one-word responses.
--Always readback all instructions given. (Except when controller motor-mouths on to another aircraft)
--Be prepared for a readback if he comes back to you.

Antenna Basics
Antennas have polarity so some are horizontal and others vertical.
---Communication antennae are vertical
---Navigational antennae are horizontal.
---The difference in polarity reduces /eliminates frequency interference.
---This is important to know if you use a handheld radio. How the antenna points affects performance.
---Antennas have critical length related to wave length ¼ and ½ lengths are common in aviation
---The V-shaped VOR antenna on rudders is ½ wave length for better reception.
---Vertical communications antenna benefit from the ‘ground-plane’ effect of the fuselage for better power.
---The transponder antenna is also a ¼ wavelength antenna

Radio Pattern and Procedure Problems (R-PPP)
---Non-events - Use of wrong call-sign
--- Non-events - Calling podunk traffic podunk radio
--- Non-events - calling an FSS without giving frequency listening on
---R-PPP Failing to use the radio to advise other aircraft
---R-PPP Calling wrong down wind direction
---R-PPP Calling wrong runway number
---R-PPP Calling wrong pattern leg name and direction
---R-PPP Not rounding off mileage distances
---R-PPP Not reading heading indicator to determine your direction from the airport.
---R-PPP When giving altitude other than level and not indicate climbing or descending
---R-PPP Giving distance without direction from airport or altitude
---R-PPP Giving distance without giving altitude as level, climbing or descending
---R-PPP Failing to make blind transmission to get critical information regarding unknown traffic
---R-PPP Failing to give your ‘intentions’ related to any information call.
---R-PPP Failing to give your ‘intentions’ as to type of pattern operation such as short approach
---R-PPP Failing to give your ‘intentions’ as to type of landing operation such as ‘stop and go’
---R-PPP Failing to give your ‘intentions’ as to type of pattern departure intentions
---R-PPP Un-needed radio calls when this can be determined.
---R-PPP Limit calls when other airports are using the frequency (exiting runway)
---R-PPP The way you say what you say must be so as to be easily understood with minimum of words.

A Reply to Ken
Regarding a readback. The latest ATC required procedure at my home field is to readback all taxi instructions. We have dual intersecting runways that are very confusing even to the most familiar pilots. With this as initial training the reading back of in flight and ground ATC instructions should become a matter of common expectation.

You may not need to readback EVERY word but you are not expected to read back the ESSENTIALS of all ATC instructions, information and clearances. My best advice VFR or IFR is to do the best you can and be prepared with ready to use statements to pick up the loose ends.

In the worst case scenario, "Request you say what you said in words-twice."

Not so bad scenario, "Say again everything after..."

Little bit of help, 'Confirm...."
"Standby while I confirm required readback."

Consider getting and using a readback recorder. If you want/need more let me know.

More Info:
All the FAA really did was to declare that the act of giving a readback does
not shift full responsibility for readback/hearback errors to Air Traffic
Control and does not insulate pilots from their responsibility under FAR
91.123 and related regulations to listen attentively and to hear accurately
in the first place. That's paraphrased from the Federal Register, the
complete document can be seen at

Free AOPA Communications Booklet
Today's delivery of AOPA Pilot contained a booklet on communications that would give any pilot a running start. They offer pilots a free Runway Safety program at

The booklet is good because it gives several true examples where poor communications created difficulties. On analysis I discovered some things omitted that I feel to be important. Some terms omitted from the Glossary overfly, abeam, sidestep, give way, avoid, sequence, etc..

Their ground radio examples were incomplete by not including a taxi route nor requiring a readback on page 21. In my opinion ground readback implements the readback skills required in IFR. On page 25 I feel the omission of a pilot's options of exiting on an intersecting runway as well as a taxiway, by requesting it or being told to. Happens all the time at Concord, CA. with dual runways intersecting.

With all due respect to others who disagree, I feel that pilots should communicate their departure and arrival plans for the information of all whom may be on the frequency. I suggest using "... on course... as part of your departure including final altitude call as being more definitive than westerly or crosswind. I believe all calls, not at pattern altitude or on the ground, should include altitude as well as the appropriate, level, climbing and descending. The more help we get in finding traffic on the radio the better.

He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.

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Related to Page 5.31 Bay Area ATC System
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