Throughout my time instructing I’ve had many students raise their fears about taking on the radio. It’s always a great challenge to a new pilot to figure out what to say and how to say it. Hopefully I can clear some of that up with this article. The AIM has some useful knowledge to be had if you know where to look.
First and foremost, the FAA and ATC want you to get your message across as clearly and concisely as you can. AIM 4-2-1(b) emphasizes thinking before you speak. Always be as brief as you can so as not to tie up the radio. 4-2-1(b) also states that concise phraseology isn’t always adequate, so use whatever words you need to get the message across especially in an emergency. This is not to be construed as a free reign for us all to start sounding like Smokey and The Bandit; we are pilots not truckers.
When teaching someone how to talk on the radio, I always instruct that you first call should always include: who you are, where you are, and what you want; i.e. “N123RB is ten miles south of the Oxford VOR requesting flight following. Again, think before you speak. Plan ahead of time what you’re going to say. If you’re going to make a call ten miles out, start thinking about your call fifteen miles out. If you’re unsure of yourself, say it out loud in the cockpit to yourself.
Another tidbit to aide in proper communication, is for all aviators to learn the ICAO phonetic alphabet. There are many forms of the phonetic alphabet, however the FAA only recognizes the ICAO version. If you need a reference, check out AIM 4-2-7. Again, please don’t be that guy on the radio saying “Anthony” for A or “Zippy” for Z. Again we are pilots, not truckers.
Finally, here are a couple myths of radio communication:
Roger and Wilco are not proper- False. AIM 4-2-3 explicitly states that Roger and Wilco are acceptable forms of communication.
You don’t have to talk on the radio at an uncontrolled airport- False. AIM 4-1-9 states that you should make an initial call at least ten nautical miles from the airport, along with another call better describing your pattern entry at five nautical miles. It also states that it is prudent to make a call as you’re taxiing out to depart the airport.
“Tally ho” and “No Joy” are acceptable phrases to use in response to a traffic alert- True. The FAA suggests but does not require pilots to use standard phraseology.