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A Guide to Phraseology for General Aviation Pilots

Updated: Jan 11


The priorities for safe flying are 'Aviate, Navigate, then Communicate! Whilst this is always true, correct standard radiotelephony (RTF) phraseology makes an important contribution to the safe and efficient operation of aircraft Communication errors and inappropriate use of phraseology continue to feature as contributory factors in safety-related incidents throughout Europe involving General Aviation (GA) aircraft, such as AIRPROXES, runway incursions and airspace infringements.

To conform to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Language Proficiency requirements, pilots and others who use radiotelephony communications must have achieved a specified level of proficiency in English. GA pilots come from different backgrounds, and some have difficulty learning or remembering how to use RTF efficiently. This document provides pilots with a guide in English to common phraseology used during GA flights in Europe and explains why certain words and phrases are used. The aim is to improve safety by helping pilots and ground stations communicate clearly.

Phraseology has been developed over time to provide maximum clarity and brevity in communications. However, while standard phraseology is available to cover most routine situations, not everything can be catered for or remembered. Therefore, pilots should be prepared to use simple language when necessary, keeping phrases as clear and concise as possible. Long radio calls with unnecessary information waste time and may endanger others.


As CaptainPilot, we share a common goal of helping aviation enthusiasts improve the communication skills of pilots and controllers, thereby contributing to Aviation Safety. Communication error is the biggest causative factor in both Level Bust and Runway incursions. The aim is to increase flight safety by raising RTF standards. Therefore, as CaptainPilot, we have started to publish the Aeronautical Standard Phraseology Database package, which we believe will serve the entire aviation community. We add new material every week so keep visiting CaptainPilot.

Good Radiotelephony Practice

Before you transmit

Make sure that the volume and squelch controls on the radio are correctly set. The best way to do this is to wait for and listen to another station transmitting on the frequency - ideally the station you are going to Before you transmit Make sure that the volume and squelch controls on the radio are correctly set. The best way to do this is to wait for and listen to another station transmitting on the frequency - ideally the station you are going to call.

Ensure that the intercom, if fitted, does not drown out radio calls. Make sure that any headset volume controls are also correctly set and that the microphone boom stays in its set position.

Before starting a flight ensure that you can hear others' transmissions and they can hear you. You should also check that you know how to change frequencies and that the frequency selected is the one you want to use first.

Many frequencies are very busy, so after changing frequencies, wait and listen before transmitting. Do not interrupt other transmissions and allow time for any necessary reply from someone else.

Think about what you are going to say before you transmit. When time and other circumstances permit, try to say the message just to yourself before you press the transmit button. This is also known as the press to transmit (PTT).

Depress the transmit button fully before you start to talk. This avoids 'clipping' transmissions and the possible loss of important information.

When you transmit

Use a normal conversational tone and speak clearly and distinctly. Do not talk too fast and maintain an even rate of speech - not more than 100 words per minute. Remember the recipient may be writing down parts of the message.

Keep the microphone close to your lips but not touching them. Do not hold the boom of a combined headset/microphone system, as this can distort speech. If using a hand-held microphone do not turn your head away from it while speaking.

Many transmissions contain numbers. A short pause before and after numbers makes them easier for the other person to understand.

Avoid hesitation sounds such as 'umm' and 'er! Release the transmit button if you need time to think-a controller will normally ask for anything you may have missed.

When transmitting a long message, it is helpful to interrupt your transmission from time to time to confirm that the frequency is clear and allow the recipient to request a repeat of any parts not received.

Use standard phraseology where possible and avoid unnecessary RTF. However plain language is always better than silence or incorrect and potentially confusing phraseology.

After you transmit

Do not release the transmit button until after you have finished speaking.

A jammed frequency is potentially dangerous. Ensure that you release the transmit button after each transmission. Make sure that a handheld radio or microphone is never placed where the transmit button is pressed in, as this will jam the frequency and no one else will be heard if they transmit. Most radios show a symbol on the display (e.g.TX) when transmitting.

After making a transmission, wait at least 10 seconds before attempting a second call. This will allow the other person time to reply to your first call and helps avoid unnecessary transmissions.

If there is no response to your transmission, check your volume level - for example you might have been briefing your passengers and turned it down. Alternatively increase the squelch (SQ) until you hear the noise and adjust the volume to the expected level.

Always read back any instructions you are given and include your callsign after the information. It is normally best to read back the items in the order given, but there are some exceptions to this. It may help to note down instructions. For more details see the list of messages to be read back on page 10 of this guide.

If you do not understand the instructions you are given, ask for clarification. Never guess what you are being told to do.


Listen carefully to make sure you understand what is said to you - it is easy to hear what you expect, rather than what is actually said.

At all times listen for your callsign and any new instructions or information. As the situation changes you may be given different instructions or new information.

Transmissions from other pilots also contain valuable information about their intentions that can help you maintain awareness of the other traffic around you. Listening out is a useful addition to look-out, particularly in the aerodrome circuit.

Check your radio, especially the position of the transmit button, if there seems a long break in activity on the frequency.

General Phraseology

Aircraft Callsigns

Pilots either use their aircraft registration, e.g. 'F-ABCD, or for many commercial aircraft a company callsign followed by a number, letters or both, e.g. 'Blue Skies 347A. Aircraft registered in some countries may use a registration consisting of numbers or letters and numbers.

Aircraft Callsign Prefixes

Where the additional information may help the controller or other pilots, the name of the aircraft manufacturer or name of the aircraft model may be used as a prefix to the registration, e.g. 'Cessna F-DCBA' or 'Harvard G-ABCD! This may be especially useful if the aircraft has particular operational characteristics. However you must not change your type of callsign during a flight, unless you are instructed to do so by an air traffic control unit, usually because an aircraft with a similar callsign is on the same frequency

Broadcast Calls

Broadcast calls to aircraft operating on a frequency normally start with 'All stations! However, when operating at an unattended aerodrome, your transmissions should start with the aerodrome's name. Including the aerodrome name helps other pilots understand where you are.

Ground Station Callsigns

Ground stations are identified by the name of the location followed by a word (suffix) indicating the type of unit or the service provided. This will normally be either air traffic control or flight information service. You must be familiar with the differences between the services that may be offered and what your own actions should be. Examples of ground station callsigns follow. Once satisfactory communication has been established and provided that it will not be confusing, the name of the location or the callsign suffix may be omitted, e.g. 'Tower' or 'Borton!