Spend a few minutes reciting the radio alphabet until you know it by
Notice that almost all the letters are international words? It's
to be easy to remember even for people who don't speak English as a
language. There are other radio alphabets, including this joke, but the phonetic alphabet below is the
one to use for aviation.
General Information for Communications
||a Greek letter
||where a pilot stays
|a German name
|a Slavic name
||an Italian cheer
|a European dad
|a worldwide drink
||a checkpoint in the Berlin Wall
|a literary heroine
|a Canadian province
||a Greek letter
|a metric unit
|a literary hero
|a Peruvian city
|an American desert
|an African people
||a well-known dance
|a biblical name
|a well-know dance
||a Scottish game
|a month of the year
|what a pilot wears
The most common thing you will use the radio alphabet for is
Let's say you are flying a C150 with the registration C-GABC into
airport, in Canada. You have listened to the recorded ATIS
it is on update "Delta". When you call an air traffic controller,
prescribed pattern of communication goes like this:
Pilot: Wherever Tower, this is Cessna 150 Golf Alfa
Charlie with Delta, over.
Tower: Cessna Golf Alfa Bravo Charlie, Wherever
Pilot: Wherever Tower, Golf Alfa Bravo Charlie ....
Tower: Alfa Bravo Charlie, that is approved, over
Pilot: Alfa Bravo Charlie
Note that the pilot does not leave the "Golf" out of his callsign until
controller does, but he is allowed to drop the aircraft type after
it only once. When the pilot wants to indicate that he has heard
understood the controller's transmission, he simply says his call sign.
real life, almost no one says "over" but you will see it in answers.
In controlled airspace, (a) ensure you have permission before doing
(b) do what you are told as long as it can be done safely, and (c) if
instructions you are given are unsafe, or become unsafe, take whatever
is necessary to ensure safety, and inform the controller what you are
as soon as possible.
Question-by-Question Explanation of Communications
From AIP COM 5.8.1
Canadian Private Civil Registration and Canadian or
Carriers Without an Assigned Call Sign
(a) Initial contact: The manufacturer's name or the type of aircraft,
by the last four letters of the registration.
Example: Cessna GADT (CESSNA GOLF ALFA DELTA TANGO).
FOXTROT ALFA DELTA TANGO)
(1) If an air traffic controller abbreviates your call sign to the last
letters, you may do that too, but you are not permitted to anticipate
(2) The controller needs to record your complete call sign for Nav
records, so if you don't say the first letter, she will have to ask
everyone's time on frequency, "Alfa Bravo Charlie, are you a Foxtrot or
(3) This is the way it's supposed to be done, but most Canadian pilots
controllers don't say "over" at the end of transmissions.
(4) While in Canada, you don't need to say the "Charlie" at the
of the registration, because everyone's call sign starts with C.
a Canadian airplane in foreign countries you should say the C, as
or "Canadian." Some examples in the Radiotelephone
the Charlie, but if you look at 5.8.1, the rule to omit the C.
S&RG refers to 5.7.1, but the sections have been re-numbered).
If you haven't memorized the phonetic alphabet yet, make sure that you
the phonetic equivalent for each of the letters in your call sign
try to make a radio call. And for the PSTAR, just make sure you
Foxtrot, Sierra, Quebec and Bravo.
The source for this is AIP COM 5.8.1: "Subsequent communications
may be abbreviated to the last three letters if this abbreviation is
You do have to say "Alpha Bravo Charlie" every time. You
just start calling yourself "Eh Bee Cee". You will occasionally
pilots revert to short forms of the letters, but this is incorrect, and
It makes a lot of difference to the controller to know whether you are
737, a twin Commanche, or a Cessna 150. Include this information
your initial call, but then omit it in subsequent transmissions.
such as "helicopter" "homebuilt" "ultralight" and "glider" may be used
of the actual manufacturer. This quickly indicates to the air
controller and other traffic on the frequency information on your
your manoeverability and appearance.
Many controlled airports have a separate frequency that is only used to
the ATIS. ATIS is a continuously looping recorded message, updated
the weather changes significantly, and at some airports every hour.
it uses a computer voice, but the information is provided by a human.
uncontrolled airports have a computer generated broadcast called an
derived from automated observations.
As AIP RAC 1.3 says: "its purpose is to improve controller and
service specialist effectiveness and to reliece frequency congestion by
the repetitive transmission of essential but routine information."
(1) If you want weather information, always contact the FSS. The
only tells you the conditions at the airport. It usually won't
the cumulonimbus clouds 6 miles to the east.
(2) The ATIS broadcast spares the controller from having to tell every
pilot the winds, active runway, and other special information.
(3) If the weather is changing rapidly, the ATIS will probably be out
of date. The controller will give you any new information when you
call, so listen
(4) The ATIS continues to be broadcast even if the weather is so bad
even the IFR traffic can't fly. At some airports there is a
number that connects to the ATIS, and on bad weather days that ATIS
rings busy, as everyone keeps calling to see if they can go flying yet
(1) The phrase "with the numbers" is used when speaking to a Flight
Station, to indicate that you have already heard the altimeter setting,
and runway in use because you were listening while they greeted another
(2) "ATIS received" just sounds goofy. They put this choice in to catch
who have no idea.
(3) If a pilot listens to the ATIS then in the middle of his radio call
that he has forgotten the letter, he will often say "with the
but really he shouldn't. What if he listened to information delta and
tower had just changed it to echo? They wouldn't know he had the wrong
(4) Every time the controller updates the ATIS, he changes the letter
it. So first thing in the morning it is alfa, then bravo, then charlie,
so on. If you had information "Delta" you would call ATC and say, for
"Vancouver Tower, this is Cessna Golf Echo Alfa Charlie with Delta."
From AIP RAC 4.5.6: "Pilots operating VFR enroute in uncontrolled
or VFR on an airway should continuously monitor 126.7 MHz when not
on the MF or the ATF."
(1) 126.7 MHz is the VFR enroute frequency, as well as a
at most FSSs. You can use it to make position reports and hear where
aircraft in your vicinity are, and you can ask for weather and NOTAM
when you are in range of an FSS.
(2) 123.2 MHz is the frequency to use when landing at an aerodrome with
published frequency, such as a private strip, or when landing a float
on a lake. Some aerodromes use 123.2 as a published frequency.
(3) 122.8 MHz is a very common UNICOM frequency for uncontrolled fields
the United States, and I believe it was once used as an air-to-air
(4) 122.2 MHz. is the frequency for Flight Watch in the United States.
not quite the same as 126.7 in Canada, as pilots don't make position
and can't change their flight plan on this frequency. It is only
weather and PIREPs.
(1) There is no receiver mode of the ELT. It is a transmitter only.
(2) You'd need two radios to monitor both 126.7 and 121.5, but if you
two, and you're not using them for anything else, these are the
they should be tuned to.
(3) The first five minutes of the hour is the time when it is
to test an ELT, so there is no point only listening then.
(4) There is sometimes weather or NOTAM information on the the
aid [navaid] voice frequency, but aircraft radios do not transmit on
frequencies, so you would hear no aircraft in distress there. IFR
with a communication failure may listen to voice-equipped navaids for
from air traffic control.
(1) The CFS gives details on every
in Canada. Ask your flight instructor to show it to you if you haven't
(2) The Designated
airspace dimensions and the name and contact information of the people
ask for permission to use restricted airspace. As a student pilot, all
have to know about it is that it exists.
(3) The A.I.P. Canada is a
ring binder full of pages that explain laws and procedures for pilots.
doesn't list information on individual airports.
(4) The Flight
Training Manual is the blueish-purple book that your flight
keeps assigning you to read chapters from before lessons.
(1) UNICOM is the name for a ground station, and the question said
(2) The closest ATC unit would be at another airport, and could be
of miles away.
(3) You address the traffic as, for example, "Powell River Traffic,
(4) You are talking to all the traffic, not just the guys you hear.
okay to address a call to a particular aircraft, if you want to clarify
pilot's intentions. You can address it by any portion of the call
you remember, or by another means, "Zulu Victor Papa, this is Zulu
can we go ahead?" "Aircraft calling east of the river, say your
"Last aircraft calling, your transmission was unreadable."
(1) 121.5 MHz is the emergency frequency.
(2) As described above, this is the United States
(3) If there is no other published frequency, use 123.2
(4) This is the enroute frequency.
(1) As it says in CARs
602.97, if you're inside the MF area, you must be on the frequency.
you must wait until you are outside of the area to leave the frequency.
AIP RAC 4.5.7 recommends you monitor the frequency for another
The relevant rule is from AIP RAC 4.2.5:
"If a pilot is required to cross any runway while
towards the departure runway, the ground or airport controller will
a specific instruction to cross or hold short. If a specific
to cross was not received, pilots shall hold short and request
to cross the runway."
(1) Unless specific instructions were given to cross the other runway,
pilot must hold short and ask or wait for clearance to taxi across.
(2) You do not need specific clearance to cross other taxiways, as long
you stay on the taxiway you were directed to take..
(3) Absolutely not. There might be aircraft landing before you will be
(4) A clearance will normally include "hold short" or "cross" the other
but if it doesn't, you must stop.
This is a common question for schools to mismark. I used to have it
on here, even. If your instructor marks it differently than I do,
point out the AIP section, and ask for an explanation of why your
is wrong. Some instructors are willing to admit to mistakes and some
you'll find out which kind you have.
A restriction is the only part of a VFR clearance that must be read
The controller offers an immediate take-off when she has only a small
in traffic to get you out, and needs you to move quickly, or not at
you can't do an immediate take-off because you need more time to get
organized before taking off, reply "Unable" and stay where you are.
is no penalty for refusing an immediate. If you do accept this
do not taxi at excessive speeds or corner dangerously. Just taxi
into place and keep going.
Usually the controller will tell you the altitude of the traffic, if
and if the altitude is "unverified" or based only on the transponder
of the aircraft. An unverified altitude signifies that the controller
not talking to the other aircraft.
(1) Never do anything that interferes with your safety, no matter WHO
(2) You were cleared to land. A touch and go might interfere with
(3) Do what you are told with all due safety considerations. The
Canada study guide refers you to CARs
602.31 for this question.
(4) The controller wants you off the runway. Turning around takes too
time. If you really want to exit at a taxiway that is behind you, ask
controller for permission to "backtrack" to that taxiway. If the
wants you to exit at a particular taxiway (maybe because the snowplow
cleared the others) she will tell you by name which taxiway to exit at.
right at Bravo."
3.18 & 3.19
The radiotelephone distress signal to indicate grave and/or imminent
requiring immediate assistance is MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY. The
urgency signal to indicate a condition concerning the safety of an
vehicle or of some person on board which does not require immediate
is PAN PAN, PAN PAN, PAN PAN. Note that it is effectively
pan" repeated three times, although many people will just say "PAN PAN
The answers EMERGENCY, EMERGENCY, EMERGENCY and URGENCY,
URGENCY are just red herrings.
The trick is to say one MAYDAY, and three "ALL
After that it can be "distress traffic ended" "silence finished"
This information is not in the AIP or the CARs, but the RTORC.
The PSTAR study guide tells you the answer is on page 17, but that's
the beginning of the section. You will find the actual answer on page
A departing flight will normally remain on tower frequency until clear
the Control Zone. Sometimes it may be necessary to leave the
early, for example in order to get permission to enter adjacent
In such a case, you must request, obtain and acknowledge
to leave the frequency early.
(1) You might hear, "Delta Oscar Golf, number two behind the Cherokee
If you hear, "Charlie Alfa Tango, number one" the controller is
going to clear someone to take off before you, or allow someone to
the runway. If there is no one in front of you, and no one else
the runway, you will probably get landing clearance.
(2) You already got that information from the ATIS before you entered
control zone, and the controller would have updated it with your
to join downwind.
(3) They will tell you who you are following, but you have to listen
figure out who else is around.
(4) You MIGHT get landing clearance on downwind. You might not get it
(1)&(2)"Roger" means "understood" and "Wilco" means "I will comply"
both are unnecessary, because just reading back your callsign means
understood, and will comply" all in one.
(3) Some old pilots do this. DON'T. It's useless and annoying,
still be asked to read back an acknowledgement.
(4) A transmission containing nothing but the call sign means, "I have
your transmission, I understand it, and I will comply" If there is
you do not understand or do not agree with, you must say so. "Victor
X-ray unable runway 26. I am on floats" "Alfa Bravo Charlie unable
one nine. I require at least 2000 feet to land." "This is Uniform
Kilo, I do not understand the clearance." It's WAY WAY better to say
Delta Foxtrot is a student pilot. Say again slowly" than to get run
(1) All airport radio station operators were once addressed as
"Such-and-Such Radio." The name and responsibilities of the guy
or gal with the microphone changed, but the call sign stayed the same.
Flying Start visitor Art Legunchuk explained it to
(2) It is a Flight Service Station, but you address it as "radio." Call
it nostalgia. I have flown with a pilot who said "Vancouver Flight
this is ..." and they still answered him.
(3) A UNICOM is just someone at the field with a microphone, maybe the
or the dispatcher at a flying school, not a professional flight
(4) You have to say who you are talking to.
(1) An FSS is not an air traffic controller.
(2) This service includes weather, NOTAMS, and flight plan filing
(3) You can receive FSS services in controlled or uncontrolled
(4) Terminal radar service is an air traffic control function.
(1)You can go into any FSS and read NOTAMs in person, or get them by
or radio, or on the Nav
Canada website. The United States Department of Defense has an
international NOTAM site,
(2) Ugh, no. There are hundreds of NOTAMs changing every day, and many
them change too quickly to be mailed. A.I.P. updates are
to all active piots.
(3) NOTAMS cover airport closures, navaid outages, tractors working
runways, helilogging, airshows, parachute jumping, new radio antennae,
changes and many other similar warnings.
(4) NOTAMs are valid until the exact time on the NOTAM, or until
or replaced, if the time on the NOTAM is APROX. Some NOTAMs are valid
a few hours, e.g. for a Snowbirds performance over the town, and others
weeks or months, e.g. for resurfacing of a runway.
(1) APRX stands for approximately. If the time and date given on the
does NOT say APRX, then the NOTAM expires at that time.
(2) A NOTAM might cover several weeks or even longer.
(3) Note that the time and date is given in Zulu, so that in Vancouver,
on October 6th represents 10 pm on October 5th.
(4) There is no need for a cancelling NOTAM if an exact time is given
the original NOTAM.
The time quoted is approximate, therefore a NOTAM must issued to
or cancel it. It's like if your friend says she'll be out of town
approximately the 23rd. If it is the 24th, you had better check
someone to see if she's back, and not just count on her being back.
Here's the scale for reporting how easy it is to hear someone's radio.
you compare it to tuning in AM radio stations on your car radio, a low
signal sounds like you have the volume turned down, while a low
signal sounds like you are not quite tuned to the correct frequency.
(from AIP-COM 5.10, not 5.9 as it says in the guide)
|readable now and then
|readable with difficulty
Back to the Questions for this Section
| On to the Questions for the Next Section
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This page written 8 October 2002
by Robyn Stewart. Last revised 7 August 2004.
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