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Ten Tips to Immediately Improve Your Radio Technique

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
from Pilot's Radio Communication Guide, December 2006
CFIDarren Newsletter, April 23, 2010
IFR Navigation:   General Info Instrument Rating | Instrument Rating Lesson Plans | 7-day IFR Rating IFR Adventure | Instrument Ground School | Safety Pilot | Holding | IFR Risk | Trip Reports | Flight Profiles | Rating Requirements | After the IFR RatingCheckride Reviewer | Are you ready?

I was recently talking to an FAA Inspector from the St Louis FSDO and he told me, "Communications is such a little understood subject that you could almost stand in front of [a group of pilots] and read the AIM to them and it would be news to 95% of the them.”  That really makes a flight instructor stop and take notice.  Our Aeronautical Information Manual promotes good radio technique also, "Good phraseology enhances safety and is the mark of a professional pilot.” (AIM 4-2-1c)

Since the radio is the essential safety link between you and ATC, I offer these ten tips to help you immediately improve your radio technique.  At the bottom of this article are a few links to other resources to further help you.  Let's begin...

1.  Umm, ahhh, and…  Remove these from your radio phraseology. These are not in the AIM and add wasted time to the transmission.  We've all heard pilots on the radio doing this and it sure sounds dumb. Jump into the smart crowd with me and transmit succinct, clear messages next time you push the red button.

2.  This is…  "Tampa Tower, this is Southwest 1649..."  Who cares?  If you have a request make it.  Better phraseology would give you this: 
"Tampa Tower, Southwest 1649, request."  Get rid of the "this is" and "we are" and give the rest of us a few more seconds of silence.

3.  Stick to the basics…  Remember the basics your instructor taught you?  Who you are calling - who you are - where you are - what you want.  Pretty simple but you hear a lot of pilots who don't get it right.  Here's what it should sound like: "Springfield Ground, Skyhawk 44E, at the FBO, taxi for departure VFR westbound."

4. Airplanes don’t have CBs and they aren't chatrooms either.  I don't know what it is about a Sunday afternoon near non-towered airports.  It usually yields two pilots talking on unicom about the new tractor.  These unicom/multicom frequencies, ground, and tower frequencies were never meant to be used in this way.  There are air-to-air frequencies that ARE meant for brief exchanges of information.  Airplanes can use 122.75 / 122.85.  Helicopters use 123.025.  Balloons & gliders use 123.3 / 123.5.  Take your discussion, however short, to the appropriate frequency.

5. Keep it short.  When making requests of ATC, keep it short with relevant information.  The controller doesn’t want your life story and neither do the other pilots listening.  Enough said?

6. Listen before speaking.  It's amazing how many times in a day of flying that I hear pilots & controllers talking all over each other.  That leads to the inevitable "say again."  Pilots can save a lot of time by listening before transmitting.  When you think the controller is finished, give it another moment before responding.  That will allow others to break in should there be an emergency, but even better, it gives you a moment to think before speaking.

7. Think!  Before transmitting your message, pause a moment to think before speaking.  No doubt you've heard a pilot get on the radio and transmit something which sounds profoundly stupid.  For sure, don't join that club.  Eliminate brain paralysis by thinking before pushing the transmit button.

8.  We want….  “Saint Pete Tower, Skyhawk 44E, we would like to use 35 right.”  Do you know what the controller is saying up there in his tower?  He just said, "Who cares what he wants" under his breath.  Want to sound like a professional and proficient pilot?  Say it like this: 
"Saint Pete Tower, Skyhawk 44E, request 35 right."

9.  Say it correctly.  There is a proper way to say letters and numbers on the radio.  There's even a proper way to state altitudes, headings, frequencies, airspeeds, and airways.  Here's a rundown:
  • Altitudes:
    • five hundred
    • four thousand five hundred
    • one three thousand five hundred
    • Flight Level One Niner Zero
  • Airways: Victor Twelve
  • Frequencies: one two two point one
  • Headings: three six zero
  • Airspeeds: two five zero knots
10. Learn how to answer ATC.  This is an area where most pilots could use some improvement.  And never, never use the phrase "With you..." which annoys the heck out of a small percentage of controllers.  These are the ones who will stick it to you later.  You can smile silently because these are the controllers with high blood pressure and will stroke out at a much younger age than you will.  Here's a little chart to help you with the rest of it:

All instructions are meant to be executed immediately and as practical.  A final thought before closing... Be a pilot, not a parrot.  Repeat those things which are mandatory. Use good judgment with the rest – sometimes “wilco” does the job.  Happy flying...
General Tips on Radio Communications
Radio Communications - Non Towered Airports
ATC's Top 9 Pet Peeves

Reader Comments

Sunday, April 25, 2010 7:22 AM   Name = Jody K
Comments = Another wonderful article.  And I agree with you 100% as a CFI for the last 40 years. Even the instrument rated students I give checks too, have terrible radio procedures. The sad part of all of this is, most folks don't even read the AIM.  Tailwinds and blue skies.   Jody ATP CFII MEI

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