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New Pilots Guide to ATC Communications

Ensuring the operational safety of aircraft is a top priority for a pilot as well as an air traffic controller. Since the introduction of modern aviation safety equipment like runway status lights (RWSL) to avoid runway incursions, the installed precautionary hardware on the aircraft (in addition to security upgrades in the airports) has substantially improved. There are, however, still some dangers that might lead to human mistakes in the interactions between controllers and pilots. The proper use of ATC communications is one of the essential safety procedures to protect the aircraft and the people on board. 

Some students find learning to speak on the radio a challenging aspect of flight school. Air traffic controllers might seem intimidating at first. Eventually, the fear subsides, and the learning begins. Confidence in your ability to use the microphone and express yourself will allow you to better plan out the words you will use and when to use them. Pilots and air traffic controllers alike constantly improve their communication skills. New best practices and standardized phraseology are regularly being discovered and incorporated as standards. ATC communications might be a source of anxiety for some young pilots, but the following are some ways in which both new and seasoned pilots can improve their ability to communicate with air traffic control.

Get Your Initial Guidance for ATC Communications

The Aeronautical Information Manual, more often known as AIM, is the most reliable resource for information on proper radio protocol. It is a valuable book with a wealth of knowledge concerning radio communication methods. The Pilot/Controller Glossary is a useful reference tool. The  AIM has this material in the back, but it is also accessible online. Every word and expression that may be used is included in this alphabetical lexicon. Unfortunately, it is somewhat difficult to read. If you can spare an hour or two at different intervals throughout your flight training, you’ll most likely discover fresh information each time you use that glossary.  

While You Are on the Ground, Listen to LiveATC

Listening when you are not flying is one of the best ways to improve your communication abilities. Recordings from almost any tower or controller may be played back using LiveATC. Along with your local control towers, you can also listen to communication to and from busy airports like JFK and Heathrow. This ground activity is invaluable – when you are in the air, there is much more to concentrate on than learning proper phrasing. While you are working on your flying abilities, you are also receiving feedback from your teacher, keeping an eye out for traffic, and implementing automation in your aircraft, just for starters. Turning on the ground-based ATC voices allows you to focus on their words and delivery. You may also look up unfamiliar terms in the initial guidance material mentioned earlier.

Ground-Based Two-Way Training

You’ll need to rehearse your two-way conversation with ATC to further brush up your skills. Ground practice with your instructor is a common element of flight training. Students at certain flying schools are arranged in traffic patterns like aircraft zipping around the classroom. The instructor provides guidance, and the pilots follow those instructions. A pilot in training can also use applications to help you practice ATC in real-time. These include PlaneEnglish and PilotEdge, both of which deliver actual ATC communication to practice at home.

You Don’t Have to Sound Cool But Be Clear and Precise

Radio communications, on the most basic level, are merely a means of transmitting information. There is nothing complicated about communicating via radio if you understand the language and master how to utilize the equipment. Consider your words carefully before uttering them, and aim to make your communications concise. In a crowded airspace, being succinct is necessary, but being understood is critical. The idea is to make sure everyone participating in the communication understands each other. On occasion, pilots or controllers have been known to try out a new phrase just to appear cool. Every student pilot within a 100-mile radius begins using that phrase after hearing it for the first time. Do not be that person! The proper way of stating things is what gives the whole thing a great vibe.

Never Be Afraid to Seek Clarification

Admitting that you made a mistake or accepting the fact that you did not understand something can be uncomfortable. But in ATC communications, these things are essential. Speak up if you did not grasp what the controller actually said. Whenever you are not completely clear about what you have heard, you should state clearly, “I don’t understand.” If something does not go according to plan, a controller may become agitated. Tell them that you are sorry and ask them to repeat themselves clearly and concisely. 

Never Speak Without First Listening

Knowing when to push the radio broadcast button is a skill that you must practice. While others are transmitting, a squealing noise is created when the microphone is keyed. Listen to what is going on around you and wait for a natural place for you to break in. As soon as the tower starts instructing, you cannot use your microphone until they have finished. 

Visit Your Local Tower

Everyone should take a ride to the airport they fly out of often. In fact, controllers are usually eager to meet with pilots and discuss their experiences.

How to properly use ATC communications is one of the many things you will study as a student pilot at California Aeronautical University. We can help you learn this skill and many others to set your aviation career into motion. Contact CAU today!

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