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General Rules of Radio Communications

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
from PocketLearning, December 2004

In spite of what you hear on the radio, the rules are quite clear.  The AIM spells out the rules of radio communication, especially IFR radio communication. 

First, be concise and use proper radio phraseology.  There are plenty of idiots on the airwaves spewing their endless, needless, non-standard phraseology. Its not cute, its not entertaining, its unprofessional, and the rest of us suffer while forced to listen to it.   If a pilot is truly considerate of others, he gets in, does his business and gets out because silence is golden.   It’s not very difficult to communicate with ATC in a disciplined, professional manner.  The standards of radio communication are spelled out in the AIM and were created so that pilots could easily be understood.  That only results in better safety for all of us.   When checking in on a new frequency, don’t add the words “with you.” The controller already knows you are there by hearing your voice and call sign.  When flying into uncontrolled fields, you will hear pilots say, “any traffic in the area please advise.” This is wasting valuable airtime especially when there might be aircraft in the area that do not have electrical systems or radios.  By the way, the AIM specifically prohibits “any traffic in the area please advise.”

Second, be courteous to all.  You’re part of an exclusive club that includes 42-year 747 captains as well as 16 year old solo students.  Mix that with ATC professionals who can decide to bend over backwards for you or keep you busy with endless vectoring, and you will realize that a little courtesy goes a long way.  Pushy, arrogant pilots will definitely get last priority with ATC, especially with those engaged in instrument training.

A few general tips for pilots: 
  1. Use proper radio phraseology
  2. Listen before transmitting: don’t step on others’ transmissions. Consider checking the engine gauges following frequency changes.
  3. Think before transmitting: overcome brain paralysis.
  4. Reduce radio clutter: be brief and concise.  An uncluttered radio frequency is the controller’s only tool to keep aircraft separated.
  5. Repeat only the relevant numbers (headings, altitudes, airspeeds, altimeter settings) and clearances.
  6. Append your call sign at the end of your transmission.
  7. Don't make the controller guess where you are.  Quickly report your location in relation to a nearby navaid or airport.  If on the ground, use a well defined position at the airport such as a business, taxiway, or runway hold short position.
  8. Manage the expectations of ATC.  If you request a deviation, amended clearance, or special request, notify ATC as soon as possible.
  9. If there's a problem during the flight, be clear about it. 
  10. If your radios dont work properly, expect ATC to elect not to work with you.  Your safety depends on clear, good quality radios.

Radio Communications - NonTowered Airports
Ten Tips to Immediately Improve Your Radio Technique
ATC's Top 9 Pet Peeves

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