Phraseology

1. Introduction

In aviation people from many different countries get together. This makes communication between Air Traffic Control (ATC) and flight crews pretty difficult as many different languages and knowledge of foreign languages collide. To prevent misunderstandings and to ensure safety in aviation it is very important to base all communication on standardized phrases. During the next chapters we shall cover and look at the phrases you might encounter during different phases of your flight.


2. Basics

Radio traffic for flights under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) must be conducted in one of the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) officially approved languages. These are English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Arabic.

For flights under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) the local language may also be used for communications. Deviations from these regulations may be found in the AIP’s (Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP) of their respective countries since there are simply too many special rules to address them all in this document.

You should always pay attention to the fact that colloquial language is used. In addition you should not speak too fast, but also not too slowly – a well-balanced speech tempo is important! This also counts to the volume and clearness of the pronunciation.


2.1. Confirmations and Transmissions

Air-traffic controllers and pilots work together in a team and usually communicate using a VHF radio device. The air-traffic controller gives instructions and advices to the pilots. The crew must confirm these with a so-called read back to show to the air-traffic controller that the instruction was understood and the air-traffic controller can correct possible mistakes. A read back is basically mandatory for everything that contains figures. Exceptions are only information about wind and weather. They do not stand for instructions in the real sense. Instructions that are not repeated by the pilot do count as not transmitted.


2.2. Radio Discipline

It is very important to maintain discipline in radio traffic, especially in high traffic situations where frequency time is short. During phases of high traffic the restricted time for transmitting is used efficiently. The pilots must listen carefully to the radio to be able to answer the instructions fast and don't miss an announcement. In addition, pilots and ATC alike must avoid overlapping of radio messages. If a pilot switches to a new frequency he should first listen to the radio carefully. He has to wait until a gap arises and all communication strings with other pilots have been finished. A communication string consists of both an instruction AND a read-back.


2.3. Communication is everything

Despite set phrases and many standardised procedures there are always situations in which pilots are not sure what the air-traffic controller just meant. It is essential that air-traffic controller and pilot are talking about the same thing. If anything is unclear an enquiry is mandatory! it is just the same as in all other areas of life: Communication is everything. People talking to each other will usually get along very well. This simple fact also applies to pilots and ATC – on ground and in the air.


2.4. Say Again!

There are two magic words that are always a correct answer to an instruction: Say again! If you want to be polite you can add the word please: Please say again!

A basic principle: If the receiver did not understand the complete transmission clearly then the only correct read back is always say again. This is a global rule. It is one of the most important circuit breakers against misunderstandings and resulting incidents! Please print and frame this and nail it next to your PC or bed.


2.5. NATO/ICAO Alphanumerical pronounciation

In Aviation all letters are designed via the NATO/ICAO alphabet. You don’t call an A an A, but say Alpha.

AAlphaAL fahBBravoBRAH VOH
CCharlieCHAR leeDDeltaDELL tah
EEchoECK ohFFoxtrotFOKS trot
GGolfGOLFHHotelhoh TELL
IIndiaIN dee ahJJulietJEW lee ETT
KKiloKEY lohLLimaLEE mah
MMikeMIKENNovemberno VEM ber
OOscarOSS cahPPapapah PAH
QQuebeckeh BECKRRomeoROW me oh
SSierrasee AIR rahTTangoTANG go
UUniformYOU nee formVVictorVIK tah
WWhiskeyWISS keyXXrayECKS RAY
YYankeeYANG keyZZuluZOO loo

Numbers are generally pronounced in single digits, for example Iberia 123 is not pronounced as Iberia Hundred and twenty three but as Iberia one, two, three.

We say generally as this applies in Europe, however in the USA the opposite is the general rule.

The exception to this rule is that numbers which end on even Hundreds or Thousands are pronounced as such, for example 500 is not pronounced five, zero, zero but as five hundred, the same would apply to 5000 or 5500.

Again numbers same as with letters are pronounced slightly differently to what we use in normal communication.

0ZeroZEE-RO1OneWUN
2TwoTOO3ThreeTREE
4FourFOW-ER5FiveFIFE
6SixSIX7SevenSEV-EN
8EightAIT9NineNIN-ER


2.6. Different Categories of Messages

Different categories of transmissions exist. Since not everything a pilot or controller wants to share is of the same importance a clearly structured order of priority has been set up which needs to be adhered to at all times.

1) Distress Messages

2) Urgency Messages

3) Messages relating to direction finding

4) Flight Safety Messages

5) Meteorological Messages

6) Flight Regularity Messages

7) State Telegrams

 

2.6.1. Distress Messages

Distress Calls affect airplanes and their occupants which are in immediate danger and need help ASAP. To indicate an emergency situation the phrase Mayday shall be used.

2.6.2. Urgency Messages

Urgency Messages are transmissions related to aircraft safety. They can be made for the own or another aircraft using the phrase Pan-pan.

2.6.3. Messages relating to Direction

Messages relating to direction finding are messages for transmission of direction finding values (what a surprise!).

2.6.4. Flight Safety Messages

Flight Safety Messages are the most common transmissions. These are the transmissions made during air traffic control, an aircraft's position report or pilot reports that are important for the flight.

2.6.5. Meteorological Messages

The name actually tells you everything – in this category of transmission someone passes on weather information.

2.6.6. Flight Regularity Messages

This category covers all transmissions concerning maintenance, changes in an aircraft's operation schedule, non-routine landings or similar. They are transmitted either on the frequencies of Flight Information Service or a different dedicated frequency in order to prevent the distraction of ATC.

2.6.7. State Telegrams

A State Telegram is, when a head of state or a proxy needs to send a message from an air plane. These transmissions are either done on the frequencies of Flight Information Service or different dedicated frequency in order to prevent the distraction of ATC. Obviously this is a type of message that does not happen on VATSIM.


2.7. Establishment of Radiotelephony Contact

The pilot always establishes initial radio contact. He changes to a new frequency and has to make an initial call. If you are on the ground this initial call consists of the call sign of the station you're trying to reach, your own call sign and the position you are moving to. Once airborne you have to state your current altitude and, if different, the altitude you are cleared to. There is no need to report your position when airborne! As you can see an initial call is short and includes all necessary information. You don't have to tell the controller your heading, shoe size or age – he just does not care about that kind of information!

Pilot

Palma Ground, good morning, Scandinavian 123 on taxiway Alpha.

…and in the air:

Pilot

Marseilles Control, Air France 123, FL125 for FL110.


2.8. Call Sign

Each transmission has to include your own call sign in order to let the person at the other end know who has just spoken or transmitted a message. There is absolutely no exception to this rule. During an initial call the call sign of the called station is at the beginning followed by the own call sign. In later phases of flight the controller always puts our call sign at the beginning followed by his instructions. During your read-back you have two options, either you put your call sign at the beginning or in the end – there are two philosophies for this:

On the one hand you have more time to think about what you actually want to say if you put your call sign in the beginning.

On the other hand a call sign at the end of a transmission indicated to other pilots on the frequency that our transmission block with the controller is completed and that the frequency is free for use by others at this time.

As you see there are good arguments for both options – you have to find out on your own which suits you more. In all the following phraseology examples we will say our call sign at the beginning.

3. Flights under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR)

On the following pages we are going to cover an IFR flight from initial contact with ATC to finally parking the aircraft at the destination airport looking at all possible phrases you might encounter. We will use a short domestic flight from Frankfurt to Munich as an example. This flight will be done as DLH123, Lufthansa 123. Our routing leads us via Dinkelsbuehl and the airway T104 to the way-point BURAM, at which point our STAR begins. The route filed in our flight plan should look like this:

DKB5S DKB T104 BURAM BURAM1M.

We know from the airport information sheet that departures to DKB should preferably use runway 18 for departure, so we file an SID from this runway and hope that ATC is not going to make us change active runway.  Our cruising altitude for this flight will be FL210.

For didactic matters you won't be able to redo this flight exactly as we show it here because you will most probably not encounter the full load of different situations covered in the next chapters. Please also note that there is nothing polite in phraseology by the book. No good mornings, no good byes. We will not use any phrases like this in this document, but you can be sure that every ATC, be it in the online or the real world, appreciates any greetings.

3.1. Departure

Before departure we filed our flight plan (see chapter Flight Planning) and all flight preparations have been made. We begin at gate A32 in Frankfurt.

3.1.1 At the Gate (ATIS)

First we check the ATIS (Automatic terminal Information Service) on the specific frequency in this case 118.025 The ATIS besides information on weather, also includes the active runways for departure and landing and other abnormal conditions. To make each ATIS

unique it is designated with a letter connected to the specific message you listen to, in our case we heard Information Alpha.

3.1.2. At the Gate (Start-Up)

Before each IFR flight the pilot has to obtain the approval to start his engines, the so called start-up. This does not mean that the pilot should or even had to start his engines immediately. It just means that ATC does not foresee departure delays of more than 20 minutes in reference to the planned departure time. The actual act of starting the engines is done in cooperation between the flight crew and the ground crew serving the aircraft.

Important: Pilots should always include the ATIS designator on initial contact with a local ATC station. In some reasons you will also have to include more details on your flight, like your aircraft type or the QNH.

Pilot

Frankfurt Delivery, Lufthansa 123, information Alpha, request start-up.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, Frankfurt Delivery, Alpha is correct. Start-up is approved.

Pilot

Start-up approved, Lufthansa 123.

3.1.3. At the Gate (En Route Clearance)

A flight following instrumental flight rules (IFR) always needs a flight plan which must be filed with air traffic control (see Flight Planning). Before departure this flight plan has to be approved by the responsible ATC station. Large airports have a dedicated station for this, the so-called Clearance Delivery. On smaller airports this task may be done by the local Ground or Tower controller.

You will often get the En-Route Clearance together with the start-up approval, so you should be prepared to get your en-route clearance together with the start-up clearance without a notice – Keyword: Pen and Paper!

An en-route clearance always has the same structure. First you will be cleared to your destination airport, followed by the assigned departure route and sometimes the departure runway (as long as this is not clearly defined by the departure route itself!). Finally there will be additional information given if the rest of the route is accepted and cleared according to the flight plan or if there are any changes to the further routing. Those changes can become quite extensive, that's why I want to give you – again - the advice to have a pen and paper ready. At the end of the clearance ATC assigns you a transponder code, the so-called Squawk, which you have to enter into your transponder (this code makes ATC's Secondary Surveillance Radar able to identify your flight and to correlate your target with your flight plan).

After the pilot's read back of the full clearance ATC will usually confirm that the read back was correct and complete.

Depending on the airport and country you will get your start-up approval right with the en-route clearance. 

Pilot

Frankfurt Delivery, Lufthansa 123, request IFR-clearance to EDDM.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, Frankfurt Delivery, cleared to München via DKB5S departure, flight planned route, squawk 2101.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, we are cleared to München via DKB5S departure, flight planned route, squawk 2101.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, read back correct.

Or, with start-up: 

Pilot

Frankfurt Delivery, Lufthansa 123, information A, request start up

ATC

a) Lufthansa 123, Frankfurt Delivery, cleared to München via DKB5S departure, flight planned route, squawk 2101.

b) Lufthansa 123, Frankfurt Delivery, start-up approved, cleared to München via DKB5S departure, flight planned route, squawk 2101.

Pilot

a) Lufthansa 123, we are cleared to München via DKB5S departure, flight planned route, squawk 2101.

b) Lufthansa 123, start-up approved, cleared to München via DKB5S departure, flight planned route, squawk 2101.

ATC

a) Lufthansa 123, read back correct, start up approved.

b) Lufthansa 123, read back correct.

Pilot

a) Start up approved, Lufthansa 123.

b) -

3.1.4. At the Gate (Vectored Departure)

Sometimes, when a pilot does not know how to follow a standardised departure route, ATC will use Vectored Departures. So what does that mean? It just means that the pilot gets specific instructions on what to do after take off. The radar controller will make sure that the pilot finds his routing later using vectors, Proceed Direct SOMETHING or similar.

Pilot

Frankfurt Delivery, Lufthansa 123, information A, request start up.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, Frankfurt Delivery, cleared to München, when airborne maintain runway track, climb altitude 4000ft QNH 1019, contact Langen Radar on frequency 120.050, squawk 2210.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, we are cleared to München, when airborne maintain runway track, climb altitude 4000ft QNH 1019, contact Langen Radar on frequency 120.050, squawk 2210.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, read back correct, start up approved.

Pilot

Start up approved, Lufthansa 123.

3.1.5. At the Gate (Detailed Departure Instruction)

ATC can, should a pilot not know the SID, also read the whole SID to the pilot. Please make sure you never need to get this service by reading your charts carefully.

Pilot

Frankfurt Delivery, Lufthansa 123, information A, request start up.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, cleared to München, departure runway 18, when airborne maintain runway heading, climb altitude 4000ft, QNH 1019. At 800 feet or 12 DME outbound RID VOR, whichever is later, turn left to KNG NDB. Maximum IAS 220 Knots. Intercept QDR 103 KNG. At AKONI turn right, intercept radial 310 DKB VOR to DKB. Squawk 2210.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, we are cleared to München, departure runway 18, when airborne maintain runway heading, climb altitude 4000ft, QNH 1019. At 800 feet or 12 DME outbound RID VOR, whichever is later, turn left to KNG NDB. Maximum IAS 220 Knots. Intercept QDR 103 KNG. At AKONI turn right, intercept radial 310 DKB VOR to DKB. Squawk 2210.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, read back correct, start up approved.

Pilot

Start up approved, Lufthansa 123.


3.2. Push Back and Taxi

3.2.1. Push-Back

If you are located at a gate from which you cannot simply taxi straight out from you need to obtain approval for push-back from Ground Control

Pilot

Frankfurt Apron, Lufthansa 123, gate A32, request push-back.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, Frankfurt Apron, push-back approved.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, push-back approved.

This push-back instruction can be extended to, for example, include a direction or the length of the push-back.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, push-back approved facing east, perform a long push into taxiway Mike.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, push-back approved, perform a u-turn into position A34.

As there is a nearly endless pool of options for ground controllers there are not always standard phrases – it is important that pilot and ATC do understand each other. As in all flight phases: Communication is everything.

If an instruction is not clear, you simply ask: Say again!

3.2.2. Taxi

After push-back, or, if you are parked at a position from which you can taxi straight out, after engine start, you obviously have to get to the runway. Designated taxiways lead you there. The task of Ground Control will be done by different stations depending on the airport and

Location of the aircraft at that airport. In our example Frankfurt Apron is our first station; the Tower will take over later.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, request taxi.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, taxi to holding point runway 18 via Mike 1 and November.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, taxiing to holding point runway 18 via Mike 1 and November.

Now that we are moving ATC has even more possibilities to differ from such easy taxi instructions as seen before. He could, for example, let us stop before a certain taxiway which we will cross.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, taxi to holding point runway 18 via Mike 1 and November, hold short of November.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, taxi to holding point runway 18 via Mike 1 and November, hold short of Quebec, traffic will be a Cargo Lux Boeing 747 moving right to left.

It is very important for a pilot to always know what happens around him. That's why he should thoughtfully listen to radio chatter between ATC and other aircraft and of course keep his eyes out. Controllers often help by issuing traffic information

3.2.3. Progressive Taxi

Should you not know your way around an airport or get lost there is the option to ask for progressive taxi. ATC will then advise the pilot where to go.

If you get lost and can't solve the situation on your own you can demand this kind of help from ATC. This is always a better solution than strolling around on the apron just because you're too proud to ask for help!

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, request progressive taxi.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, roger, expect progressive taxi.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, turn left now.

Pilot

Turning left, Lufthansa 123.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, the second taxiway to your right is November. Follow November to holding point runway 18.

Pilot

Will turn second taxiway to the right; follow November to holding point runway 18, Lufthansa 123.

3.2.4. Conditional Clearances

ATC can attach further instructions to traffic information for example to let another aircraft pass and taxi behind it. It is very important that you have this traffic in sight, if not, you have to inform the controller immediately!

ATC

Lufthansa 123, give way to an Air Berlin Boeing 737 moving from left to right on taxiway November.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, unable, traffic not in sight.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, roger, in this case hold short of November

ATC

Lufthansa 123, give way to an Air Berlin Boeing 737 moving from left to right on taxiway November.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, will give way to Air Berlin Boeing 737 on November.


3.3. Tower

When approaching the runway or latest when we reach the holding point Ground will hand us off to the Tower controller who is responsible for all movements on the runways and issues all clearances (landing and take off, crossing a runway, etc).

ATC

Lufthansa 123, contact Tower on frequency 119.900.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, contacting Tower on frequency 119.900.

Depending on where we are and if we are ready for departure there are different possibilities for the initial call on the tower frequency.

Pilot

Frankfurt Tower, Lufthansa 123, approaching runway 18.

Pilot

Frankfurt Tower, Lufthansa 123, at holding point runway 18, ready for departure.

3.3.1 Line Up and Conditional Clearance

The Tower Controller may only give landing and take-off clearances under certain circumstances, one of which being that the runway must be clear of all other traffic. The Tower Controller has some tools with which to separate traffic very effectively and to keep a steady traffic flow. They could have us line up on the runway and wait there.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, line up runway 18 and wait.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, lining up runway 18 and waiting.

They can also instruct us to line up behind another aircraft. In that case they give us our clearance to line up, even if it would not have been our time. They do not have to pray that the frequency is clear when our actual time comes – that makes their work much more effective.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, behind departing Boeing 737 line up runway 18 and wait behind.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, behind departing Boeing 737 lining up runway 18 and waiting behind.

It is very important for us to properly identify the traffic that the tower controller indicated to us and to keep it in sight at all times. Should we not see the traffic the conditional clearance is invalid – we have to immediately inform ATC who will then figure out another clearance.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, behind departing Boeing 737 line up runway 18 and wait behind.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, negative, traffic not in sight.

Sometimes ATC “shows” you the traffic and only gives you the clearance after you confirmed visual contact.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, traffic is a Boeing 737 on short final runway 25R, report in sight.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, traffic in sight.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, behind landing Boeing 737 line up runway 25R and wait behind.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, behind landing Boeing 737 lining up runway 25R and waiting behind.

3.3.2. Take off Clearance

Now that the runway is cleared we get our take-off clearance. The structure and the information given are always the same:

ATC

Lufthansa 123, wind 180 degrees 10 knots, runway 18, cleared for take off.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, runway 18, cleared for take off.

You don't have to read back the wind information as this serves only as an information to the pilot.


3.4. Departure and Climb

At some airports we have to contact departure ourselves. At other airports tower will give the instruction to call departure with the known phraseology (Lufthansa 123 contact departure on frequency …). Because we are airborne now, our current altitude is to be considered in the next initial-calls as well as the altitude that we are cleared for. In this case the altitude we're cleared for is the initial climb altitude that can be found on the charts.

Pilot

Langen Radar, Lufthansa 123, altitude 2000 feet climbing altitude 4000 feet.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, Langen Radar, identified, climb flight level 80.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, climb flight level 80.

The controller will identify us on the scope before he gives more instructions. As soon as radarcontact is established, ATC will tells us that we're „Identified“.

There are several possibilities, why an identification could fail. Wrong transponder code, wrong setting of transponder code or a tranponder failure in our airplane. The controller will compair our reported altitude with the altitude indication on his scope. If the altitudes match the controller can separate us from other airplanes. „Identified“ doesn't need to be read back.

The controller also could give the instruction to stop our climb before reaching the cleared altitude.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, stop climb FL70.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, stop climb FL70.

Once we reach the border of a sector, (either horizontally or vertically) the controller will instruct us to contact the next station using the already known phraseology. He could also tell us to give further information to the next station, e.g. our speed.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, report speed to Langen Radar, frequency 127.500.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123 will report speed to Langen Radar on frequency 127.500

As always when we establish contact with a radar controller we have to report our current altitude and, if different, the altitude we are cleared to – this is mandatory!

Pilot

Langen Radar, Lufthansa 123, FL65 for FL70, speed 250 knots.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, Langen Radar, identified, climb FL230.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, climbing FL230.


3.5 Cruise

We are now cruising along on FL230. There are some situations we may face now, but all of them may appear in other flight phases as well.

3.5.1. Proceed Direct to

ATC could give us a short cut to a certain way point. It can be part of our flight plan, but does not necessarily have to.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, proceed direct Dinkelsbühel VOR.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, proceeding direct Dinkelsbühel VOR.

So now we proceed to that point from our present position. If the waypoint is part of our flight plan, we follow our routing after that point.

This is the same instruction but packed a little differently:

ATC

Lufthansa 123, after Konig NDB proceed direct Dinkelsbühel VOR.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, after Konig NDB proceeding direct Dinkelsbühel VOR.

So we follow our routing as planned until we reach KNG and turn towards DKB afterwards.

If you don't get the name of the way point you can ask the controller to spell it (please spell the name).

ATC

Lufthansa 123, proceed direct ANEKI, Alpha, November, Echo, Kilo, India.

Pilot

Proceeding direct Alpha, November, Echo, Kilo, India, Lufthansa 123.

3.5.2. Changes to Route

ATC can give us a different routing for a segment.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, proceed direct Würzburg VOR, thereafter proceed direct BURAM.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, proceeding direct Würzburg VOR thereafter direct BURAM.

3.5.3. Heading and Vectors

Sometimes it's necessary to have us turn away from the planned route by using vectors, which are simple headings we need to follow.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, turn right heading 180.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, turning right heading 180.

We can of course do the whole turn in the other direction as well.

If ATC is not sure in which direction we need to turn he can issue an instruction without a direction – we then turn in the direction where we have to turn the least.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, fly heading 180.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, fly heading 180.


3.6. Approach and Descend

3.6.1 Descend

Slowly but steady we get closer to our destination and want to start descending. In case ATC did not work ahead and issued a descend clearance early we can of course draw the controller's attention to us and just ask for descend.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, request descent or Lufthansa 123, ready for descent.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, descend FL 180.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, descending FL 180.

In order to control the descend ATC has a few tools that can be used.

3.6.2. Instructing a Rate

ATC can instruct you to descend with a certain vertical speed.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, descend FL 180 at 2000 feet per minute (or greater/less).

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, descending FL 180 at 2000 feet per minute (or greater/less).

3.6.2. Descend Restrictions

If the controller wants us to be at a certain altitude at/behind/abeam/before a specified waypoint he gives an instruction like the following:

ATC

Lufthansa 123, descend FL 180 to be levelled at BURAM.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, descending FL 180 to be levelled at BURAM.

This means that we have to descend in a manner to reach BURAM at FL 180, we could also reach it earlier if we wanted. The net phrase is a little more restricting as we now have to reach FL 180 exactly at BURAM, not earlier, not later – exactly.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, descend to reach FL 180 at BURAM.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, descending to reach FL 180 at BURAM.

The defined restriction does not have to be bound to a waypoint.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, descend to reach FL 180 20 miles before BURAM.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, descend to reach FL 180 20 miles before BURAM.

Sometimes a controller needs us to reach an altitude somewhere abeam a certain point. In order to follow that instruction we first need to know where that waypoint is. That usually happens when ATC issues vectors. This is used if the controller needs us on a specific altitude at a certain point and we are not following a routing or flying directly to a later waypoint.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, descend to reach FL 180 abeam RENLO.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, descend FL 180 to reach level abeam RENLO.

As you see it's an advantage to have all charts – en-route charts too! – at hand and ready. If you do not have en-route charts most FMCs available for FS offer the option to enter a waypoint on the FIX page (or similar) and sometimes even offer to insert an ABEAM POINT (e.g. PMDG 737 NG).

Another option is to delay the beginning of descend until ATC can either tell us a certain point where we have to start our descend or give us an early descend with the option to start it whenever we want – as long as we meet the restrictions ATC gives us. So we can maintain our cruising altitude as long as we want. If you prefer to stay high longer and then just drop out of the sky, that's fine, if you want to do a steady slow descend, you can do that as well.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, when passing Dinkelsbühel, descend FL 180.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, when ready descend to reach FL 180 at BURAM.

You can find more important information on the topic descend (planning, tactics, execution) in the chapter OPERATION of Flight Training.

3.6.3. Holdings

We essentially come across two main types of holdings, Published and unpublished or unknown holdings.

You won't be very surprised when I tell you that there are standardized phrases for the entry and exit of holding patterns. More information on holding patterns can be found in the chapter BASICS of Flight Training

ATC

Lufthansa 123, hold at ROKIL (as published).

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, holding at ROKIL (as published).

Holding patterns are not unforeseeable, so ATC often prepares pilots that there will be a holding pattern. Often this includes the clearance to reduce your speed – perhaps you can avoid the holding this way.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, expect holding at ROKIL, reduce speed at own discretion.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, expecting hold over ROKIL, reducing to minimum clean speed.

As always – if ATC does not give us the approval to reduce speed we can just ask him. But don't do it on your own! Another aircraft may be on the same level behind us!

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, may we reduce to minimum clean speed?

ATC

Lufthansa 123, reduce speed at own discretion.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, reducing minimum clean.

If a pilot does not know the holding he was instructed to join he has to ask for instructions. ATC will then provide the necessary information to the pilot. The holding instruction will look like this:

Fix | inbound course | turn direction | leg time/distance

Pilot

Lufthansa 123 request holding instructions.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, hold over ROKIL, inbound track 128, right turns, leg time 1 minute.



3.7. Types of Approaches

Next we will establish contact with approach control. This is a local control station - as we learned earlier we have to include the ATIS designator during the initial call. A good time to listen to the ATIS is around your top of descend.

Pilot

München Arrival, Lufthansa 123, FL 185 for FL 180, information Bravo.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, München Arrival, identified, Bravo is correct.

 

3.7.1. STAR

This is what a clearance onto a STAR looks like:

ATC

Lufthansa 123, cleared BURAM 1M arrival.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, cleared BURAM 1M arrival.

3.7.2. Transition (without Profile)

ATC

Lufthansa 123, cleared ROKIL 26 transition.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, cleared ROKIL 26 transition

An instruction like this allows us to follow the lateral path of the transition; ATC coordinates and instructs all changes in altitude. But: We have to follow the speed restrictions indicated on the charts anyway as long as the controller does not lift them.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, cleared ROKIL 26 transition, no speed restriction.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, cleared ROKIL 26 transition, no speed restrictio

3.7.3. Transition (with Profile)

ATC

Lufthansa 123, cleared ROKIL 26 transition and profile.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, cleared ROKIL 26 transition and profi

Now we may follow the lateral and the vertical part of the transition. We can now descend to the altitudes indicated in the charts on own discretion, there will be no further instructions on altitude changes. Of course we have to follow the speed restrictions as well.

3.7.4. Cleared Direct Waypoint or via waypoints

Another very common way to get a transition clearance is the phrase Cleared direct waypoint or Cleared via waypoints. If you hear something like this, you fly directly to the instructed point and, from this point on, follow the lateral part of the transition. If the controller gives you two or more waypoints you follow them in the correct order and then join the rest of the transition. You – again – have to adhere to the speed restrictions (what a surprise!). As always there are exceptions from the rules which you can find in the latest charts and in the AIP.

We will now fly to the RNAV waypoint associated with Munich Airport. The designation follows a simple concept as is the same for many airports: “D” for Germany, then one letter to identify the airport the point is associated with, in this case an “M”. In Zurich they are named “ZH”, followed by three figures. Usually the controller does not include the leading letters in a clearance but only uses the figures and assumes the pilot knows which airport they are approaching, so the pilot can do the maths himself and figure out which letters he must include.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, cleared direct waypoint 425.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, cleared direct waypoint 425.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, cleared via waypoints 425 and 429.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, cleared via waypoints 425 and 429.

ATTENTION: Some transitions do not include the clearance to turn onto final approach. If you reach the last point of the downwind you have to hold the last flown track. As always you will find the detailed information and exceptions on the appropriate charts.

3.7.5. Approach Types 

The approach itself will be commenced by an ILS, a non precision approach or a visual approach. The clearances used for ILS and non precision approaches are more or less the same, a visual approach has a slightly different systematic 

3.7.6. ILS Approach

ATC

Lufthansa 123, cleared ILS approach runway 26R.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, cleared ILS approach runway 26

This is the most common form. It includes:

  • All ATC speed restrictions are now cancelled
  • Clearance to intercept the localizer and glide slope
  • Descend to the published intercept altitude of the standard approach

If an ATC does not want the aircraft to change its altitude he can either clear the aircraft to intercept the localizer only. In this case you may not intercept the glide slope without further clearance or leave your current altitude. Another way of preventing an altitude change is to tell the pilot to maintain a specific altitude until a certain point. ATC may also give a new speed restriction.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, cleared Localizer runway 26R.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, cleared Localizer 26R.

or

ATC

Lufthansa 123, cleared ILS runway 26R, maintain 6000ft until glide slope intercept.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, cleared Localizer 26R, maintain 6000ft until glide slope intercept.

3.7.7. NDB-DME Approach

ATC

Lufthansa 123, cleared NDB-DME Approach runway 26R.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, cleared NDB-DME approach runway 26R.

3.7.8. VOR-DME Approach

ATC

Lufthansa 123, cleared VOR-DME Approach runway 26R.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, cleared VOR-DME Approach runway 26R.

3.7.9. Localizer DME Approach

ATC

Lufthansa 123, cleared Localizer-DME Approach runway 26R.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, cleared Localizer-DME Approach runway 26R.

3.7.10. Visual Approach

Before you receive a clearance for a visual approach, during which the pilot has to have the airport in sight at all times, ATC needs to verify that the pilot has the airport in sight. After that he will issue the clearance for the visual approach. From this point on the pilot is responsible for his heading, altitude and speed.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, field is at your 3 o’clock position, range 5 miles, report in sight.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, field in sight.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, cleared visual approach runway 26R.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, cleared visual approach runway 26R.

3.7.11. Report Established 

Basically you should not report when you are established on final approach, but ATC can ask you to report it. He can make a difference between Localizer, ILS, final track (during a non precision approach) or final approach (visual approaches).

ILS

ATC

Lufthansa 123, report established on ILS 26R.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, wilco.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, established ILS 26R.

Localizer

ATC

Lufthansa 123, report established on localizer runway 26R.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, wilco.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, established localizer runway 26R.

At that point I want to remind you that there is no such a thing as fully established. It is a bad habit that also caught up in the real world to change established ILS runway xx to fully established. But: This word does not exist and it can not exist if you really think about it logically! You are either established ILS runway xx (on localizer and glide slope) or you are established localizer runway xx (localizer only, glide slope has not been reached yet).

You will find further information on that topic in chapter Flight training.

Final track

ATC

Lufthansa 123, report established on NDB-DME approach runway 26R.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, wilco.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, established on final track NDB-DME approach runway 26R.

Final approach

ATC

Lufthansa 123, report established on final approach runway 26R.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, wilco.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, established on final approach runway 26R.

3.7.12. Visual Separation

ATC is responsible for the correct separation in all flight phases. To be able to go below the specified minima there is for example the option of visual separation. First ATC checks whether the succeeding pilot has the preceding aircraft in sight and whether he is able to separate himself. If this is the case ATC gives the responsibility for separation the succeeding pilot.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, traffic is an Airbus A320 on 10 miles final 26R, report in sight.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, traffic in sight.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, are you able to maintain visual separation from mentioned traffic?

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, affirmative.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, maintain visual separation from Airbus A320 on 8 miles final, contact Tower on 118.700.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, maintain visual separation from A320, contact Tower on 118.700.


3.8. Landing Clearance

By now we are established on our final approach, time to get in touch with the aerodrome controller in the tower. During initial contact we report what type of approach we are conducting and which runway we are approaching. Any differences from this procedure can be found in the airport information. If traffic permits we will get our landing clearance right away, and if not, ATC will say a short hello and give us an information on how many aircraft will be using the runway before us.

Pilot

München Tower, Lufthansa 123, ILS approach runway 26R.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, München Tower, continue approach, number 3.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, number 3.

or

Pilot

München Tower, Lufthansa 123, ILS approach runway 26R.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, München Tower, wind 270 degrees, 12 knots, runway 26R, cleared to land

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, runway 26R, cleared to land.

3.8.1 Go Around

There are several possibilities why an approach should or must be aborted, be it the weather or a utility lying around on the runway. The pilot can decide to go around or ATC can instruct him to do so.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, going around.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, follow missed approach as published, contact Arrival on frequency 128.020.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, Missed Approach as published, contact Arrival on 128.020

or

ATC

Lufthansa 123, go around, I say again, go around. Maintain runway heading, climb altitude 5000 feet.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, going around, Maintain runway heading, climb altitude 5000 feet.


3.9. Taxi to Gate

After we vacated the runway we will be guided to the parking position using the exact same tools we covered in chapter 3.1.2.2.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, taxi to gate 250 via W2.

Pilot

Taxi to gate 250 via W2, Lufthansa 123.

Important: After the taxi instruction leading us to a parking position we have to keep watching the frequency until we finally reached our parking position – but there are no further calls like On Blocks, request engine shut down! The flight is over at this point, we made it!

4 Specials

There are some situations that are not used every day, but it is very useful to have heard of them.

4.1. Visual Climb/Descend

This method is sometimes used to provide a smooth climb and descend. Similar to the visual separation we covered earlier the pilot is instructed to maintain his own separation from the preceding traffic in order to go below the minimum separation. It is very important that the planes are in VMC and visual contact is held throughout the whole manoeuvre!

ATC

Lufthansa 123, confirm VMC.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, in VMC.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, traffic is a Boeing 737, 12 o’clock position, range 5 miles, 2000 feet high, report in sight.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, traffic in sight.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, are you able to maintain visual separation to the traffic for the next 5 minutes?

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, affirmative.

ATC to the other aircraft)


Air Berlin 456, traffic is an Airbus A320 at your 6 o’clock position, range 5 miles, 2000 feet below, I will climb him through your level.

Other aircraft

Roger, Air Berlin 456.

ATC

Lufthansa 123, climb FL150, maintain visual separation from mentioned traffic for the next 5 minutes.

Pilot

Lufthansa 123, climbing FL150, maintaining visual separation from Boeing 737 for the next 5 minutes.


4.2. Emergency

During an emergency you either alert ATC by transponder (setting it to 7700) or if possible make your distress call on the radio.

Pilot

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, Lufthansa 123, declaring emergency.

There is no standard phraseology after that – ATC and pilot communicate in the way the situation requires. The most important thing is that the pilot tells the controller what his problem is and what his intentions are. Only then ATC can provide the best service possible.

4.3. Urgency Messages

Should there be a problem aboard that does not qualify as an emergency (e.g. a single engine failure in a B52) you should use the phrase Panpan:

Pilot

Pan-Pan, Pan-Pan, Pan-Pan, Lufthansa 123, technical problem.