Pilot training for Private, Commercial, Instructor, Light sport, Gyrocopter and Microlight licenses

The Sins of aviation radio work

The 8 deadly sins of radio communication
Shakespeare famously wrote, “brevity is the soul of wit.” This should be the motto of any radio operator.

Talking on the radio is always near the top of the list of concerns for student pilots. Nobody wants to sound bad in front of the “audience” of your peer pilots, or worst the ATC audience but the jargon used by pilots and controllers alike can make it hard to know what to say and when to say it.

There are plenty of great resources to improve your communications skills, whether you’re brand new or have some time in your logbook. The best advice is to anticipate what you’re going to hear from ATC, or what the next TIBA call will be and  then think before you key the mic. If you know what you’re likely to hear, it is much easier to understand ATC’s or fellow aviators instructions. Likewise, if you know what you want to say before you start talking, you’ll sound more professional on the radio.

But most of all, avoid some common mistakes. There are a few things that can instantly make you sound less professional–let’s call them the 8 deadly sins of radio communication. These phrases should not be in your aviation vocabulary

  1. Roger and wilco is not a read back. If ATC clears you for something, they usually expect a readback of that clearance, just to make sure both sides understand what’s about to happen. Simply saying “roger” may sound cool, but it’s not a readback. If ATC says “ZS-SCE taxi to runway 22R via Papa, Alpha, hold short of runway 31R,” they want to know that you heard each part of that–in fact, it’s required. “Roger” or “wilco” is never appropriate! Saying either is going to get you an earful and requested repeat of the readback.
  2. Starting every transmission with “ah…” or “and…” We’re all human, and sometimes the brain freezes when we key the mic. But some pilots regularly start every communication with “ah” or “and,” as if it adds some airline captain quality to the remarks to follow. Don’t do it. Again, airtime is valuable, and there’s no benefit to be gained from these little pauses. Think before you start talking and you’ll be more confident.
  3. TMI (too much information). If you’re at Middle-of-Nowhere Municpal on a Sunday night and there is no tower, nobody needs to know that you’re taxiing from the ramp to taxiway Alpha. Obviously a radio call is a good move, but focus on communicating important information. A good question to ask is, “how will this next radio call affect other pilots?” If it won’t, keep quiet. You might tie up the radio for a neighboring airport that uses the same frequency.
  4. Using the correct local landmarks for position reports. Before you go anywhere new, phone around and ask local pilots or especially instructors about the correct and relevant VFR reporting points! Don’t just say “I’m over the red barn” and expect everyone to know where you are! Likewise if you are bad at judging distance, try to fly over the landmark so as to avoid confusion.
  5. Using IFR fixes on a VFR flight or in the GA. This is the IFR equivalent of number 4, and it’s just as bad (if not worse). You’re a 15-hour student pilot on your first solo when you hear, “special rules west traffic, Seneca ABC is 15nm DME RIV on the RNAV approach”… or something similar. You have no idea what DME,RIV or RNAV is.
  6. “Any traffic in the area please advise.” Certainly the worst of the 8, this one is arrogant, wasteful and should be punishable by prison time. OK, maybe not the last part, but there’s simply no place for this phrase on the radio. If want to get an idea of the traffic flow, listen to TIBA on your #2 com radio before switching over. Or, just listen for a minute before announcing your intentions. This takes up far less airtime and is much more considerate.
  7. “With you.” If you’re flying cross country, you’ll get switched to a new controller every so often. Sometimes it’s a new approach control or center, sometimes it’s just a new sector in the same facility. Regardless, a check in should be short and sweet: “Cape town Approach, ZS-SCE, 4000.” There’s no need to say “with you at 4000.” It seems like a small thing, but it’s wasted airtime and most controllers don’t like it.
  8. Using “to” and “for” in any transmissions. Spot why this is dangerous: “SCE is descending through 4000ft for 2000ft. Or, “SCE is climbing from 2000ft to 4000ft.

Aviation communication errors are critical to the safety of aircraft. Minor errors in R/T can result in catastrophic situations. In the end, being a pro on the radio means being clear and concise. Say everything you need to say, but no more.

by Dustin Metcalfe

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