Listen! Are you using the right words correctly?

Published in Midwest Flyer – February/March 2019 issue

When you fly, do you listen to the aircraft radio when you are approaching or passing over airports? Do you really listen? Or are you busy thinking about the proverbial $100.00 hamburger you will get when you land? Hopefully you actually listen.

The purpose of the radio equipment in your aircraft is of course for communicating not only your status and intentions, but also for receiving communications from other aircraft along with their status and intentions. Let’s not forget about receiving guidance and support from air traffic control (ATC) over the various aviation frequencies. But again, the question is raised, are you listening and speaking properly when using your aviation communication radio?

If you are listening, you will no doubt hear (too many) aviators using non-standard or improper language on the aircraft frequencies. Why do they do that? You’d have to ask them, but their reason(s) probably fall into one or more of three categories: lack of knowledge (no excuse), laziness/or complacency (no excuse), or, trying to sound airliner cool or military “tacticool” (no excuse). None of these three reasons is acceptable in the air or on the ground.

It is important to remember two things: 1. Clear communication whenever you are in your aircraft is a very important key to your safety and 2. An aircraft radio and its usage is NOT the same as a CB (Citizen’s Band) radio. There are very specific words and phraseologies developed and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) specifically for aviation usage. Failure to use the proper words and phrases can significantly impact your safety, as well as the safety of other aviators in the air or even on the ground.

Standardized phrases and vocabulary, when used as directed by the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), help to assure that ATC and pilots clearly understand what is being said. Imagine if ATC was trying to control flights in an area where one pilot speaks only French, one only Spanish, and another only Japanese. Giving simple instructions to those three aircraft would be a tremendous challenge at best. But standardized phraseology in one accepted language would of course make a world of difference and enhance the safety of those three pilots and anyone flying into or out of that airport.

To learn, relearn, or review the proper words and phrases to use, read Section 2, 4-2-1 to 4-2-14 of the AIM, a total of six and a half pages. To get you started, here are a few select sentences and paragraphs taken directly from the AIM to help assure you are on the right heading to always using the proper words and phraseology, from start to finish.

AIM 4-2-1: a. Radio communications are a critical link in the ATC system. The link can be a strong bond between pilot and controller or it can be broken with surprising speed and disastrous results.
b. The single, most important thought in pilot/controller communications is understanding. It is essential, therefore, that pilots acknowledge each radio communication with ATC by using the appropriate aircraft call sign. Brevity is important, and contacts should be kept as brief as possible, but controllers must know what you want to do before they can properly carry out their control duties. And you, the pilot, must know exactly what the controller wants you to do. Since concise phraseology may not always be adequate, use whatever words are necessary to get your message across. Pilots are to maintain vigilance in monitoring air traffic control radio communications frequencies for potential traffic conflicts with their aircraft especially when operating on an active runway and/or when conducting a final approach to landing.
c. Good phraseology enhances safety and is the mark of a professional pilot. Jargon, chatter, and “CB” slang have no place in ATC communications.

AIM 4-2-2: a. LISTEN before you transmit. Many times you can get the information you want through ATIS or by monitoring the frequency. Except for a few situations where some frequency overlap occurs, if you hear someone else talking, the keying of your transmitter will be futile and you will probably jam their receivers causing them to repeat their call. If you have just changed frequencies, pause, listen, and make sure the frequency is clear.
b. THINK before keying your transmitter. Know what you want to say, and if it is lengthy, for example, a flight plan or IFR position report, jot it down.
d. When you release the button, wait a few seconds before calling again. The controller or Flight Service Station specialist may be jotting down your number, looking for your flight plan, transmitting on a different frequency, or selecting the transmitter for your frequency.
e. Be sure that you are within the performance range of your radio equipment and the ground station equipment. Remote radio sites do not always transmit and receive on all of a facility’s available frequencies, particularly with regard to VOR sites where you can hear but not reach a ground station’s receiver. Remember that higher altitudes increase the range of VHF “line-of-sight” communications.

a. Up to but not including 18,000 feet MSL, state the separate digits of the thousands plus the hundreds if appropriate.

b. At and above 18,000 feet MSL (FL 180), state the words “flight level,” followed by the separate digits of the flight level.

AIM 4-2-11. SPEEDS

The separate digits of the speed, followed by the word “KNOTS.” Except, controllers may omit the word “KNOTS” when using speed adjustment procedures. For example, “REDUCE/INCREASE SPEED TO TWO FIVE ZERO.”
EXAMPLES: (Table 4-40[1])

One more important point: Many people have allowed the improper use of the word “Roger” to creep into their daily flying and non-flying language with an associated dilution of the actual meaning. In aviation, “Roger” means, “I have received all of your last transmission.” It should never be used when answering a question that calls for a YES or NO response.

As you read Section 2 of the AIM, you will realize that practicing clear and concise communications is a key factor in safe flight throughout the nation and the world. So please make it a priority to review the AIM with an emphasis on Section 2. Make sure when you fly that you listen well and always use the correct aviation vocabulary and phraseology. Safety should always be your priority one.

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