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ATC phraseology

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This page lists some common phraseologies used in the communication between pilots and ATC.

  • Items in italic need to be replaced by the relevant information.
  • Lists are dialogues between the pilot and the controllers; we assume that station is the controller's callsign and that callsign is the pilot's callsign.
  • Most items critical for the safety of flight (such as new headings/altitudes...) must be read back (repeated) by the pilot; this allows the controller to check whether the pilot understood them correctly. In case readback is required, this will be mentioned. Do not just say "roger" in those cases – that's a common error. If an item is read back wrongly, the controller should just state it again.
  • Some clearances (authorizations) may be combined in a single sentence for brevity.

For a detailed tutorial in ATCing, please take a look at the ATC Tutorial.

General

Phraseology Meaning Remarks
Affirmative (abbreviation: affirm) Yes
Negative No
  • Controller: Callsign, contact station on frequency
  • Pilot: Contact station on frequency, callsign
A controller asks the pilot to change radio frequency and contact another controller; the pilot acknowledges the instruction and then changes frequency. If the new controller does not respond, change to the previous frequency and inform ATC.
Roger I received your information This sentence is often abused; it should not be used in case a readback (repetition of the message you heard, for safety reasons) is required.
Wilco Will comply This sentence should not be used in case a readback (repetition of the message you heard, for safety reasons) is required.
Say again Please repeat your last message
Standby Please wait Often said by a controller because (s)he's busy at the moment
Correction Disregard what has been said immediately before (as it's erroneous) and replace it with the words that follow. Example: Callsign, taxi to holding point runway 22 via N – correction, via A means: Callsign, taxi to holding point runway 22 via A.
Unable, reason The pilot is not able to execute the instruction given by a controller for safety reasons.

Clearance

Phraseology Meaning Remarks
  • Pilot: Station, callsign, radio check.
  • Controller: Callsign, station, I read you number from one to five: 1 = bad, 5 = excellent
Used by a pilot to check if the controller can hear him well.
  • Pilot: Station, callsign, stand stand, aircraft type with information code, request IFR clearance to destination
  • Controller: Callsign, station, cleared to destination, SID departure, squawk code
  • Pilot: Cleared to destination via SID, squawk code, callsign
  • Controller: Callsign, readback correct
Used by a pilot flying under instrument flight rules to ask which SID he is going to use for departure. This is not an authorization to take off.
  • Pilot: Callsign, request pushback
  • Controller: Callsign, pushback approved facing direction
  • Pilot: Pushback approved facing direction, callsign
The pilot asks for permission to pushback (be pushed away from the stand by a tug). At the end of the maneuver, the aircraft should be headed direction.
  • Pilot: Callsign, request startup
  • Controller: Callsign, startup approved
  • Pilot: Startup approved, callsign
The pilot asks for permission to start up the engines.

Taxi

Phraseology Meaning Remarks
  • Pilot: Station, callsign, stand stand, request taxi
  • Controller: Callsign, station, taxi to holding point via full list of taxiways
  • Pilot: Taxi to holding point via full list of taxiways, callsign
The pilot asks for authorization to taxi; the controller authorizes him to taxi to an holding point, reached which the pilot should stop and ask/wait for further instructions. Refer to an updated aeronautical chart to know taxiway names.
  • Pilot: Station, callsign, stand stand, request progressive taxi
  • Controller: Callsign, station, roger, expect progressive taxi
  • Controller: Callsign, turn left/right now
  • Pilot: Turning left/right, callsign
The pilot asks for authorization to taxi and for controller guidance, as (s)he's not familiar with the airport; the controller tells the pilot when to perform each turn. Progressive taxi should only be used in case you get lost and can't solve the situation on your own.
  • Controller: Callsign, give way to an airline aircraft model moving from left to right/right to left on taxiway name
  • Pilot: Will give way to airline aircraft model on name, callsign
The controller instructs the pilot to give way to another plane.
  • Pilot: Station, callsign holding short runway number at intersection
  • Controller: Callsign, cross runway number at intersection
  • Pilot: Cross runway number at intersection, callsign
The pilot needs to cross a runway and asks the ground controller for permission; the ground controller obtains a clearance from Tower (not reported here) and authorizes the pilot to cross.
  • Controller: Callsign, hold short of position
  • Pilot: Will hold short of position, callsign
The ground controller asks the pilot to stop at position (a taxiway entrance, runway crossing...). As soon as the pilot reaches the designated point, (s)he must inform the controller that the aircraft is "holding short".
  • Controller: Callsign, hold position
  • Pilot: Holding position, callsign
The ground controller asks the pilot to stop immediately/maintain the current position.

Remark: the controller might ask you to follow an aircraft or to perform a maneuver after another aircraft has cleared the way (conditional clearance). In that case, (s)he will say "After the aircraft type...".

Takeoff and departure

Phraseology Meaning Remarks
  • Controller: Callsign, line up and wait runway number
  • Pilot: Line up and wait runway number, callsign
The tower controller instructs the aircraft to enter the runway, position itself in the center and await further clearance.
  • This is not an authorization to take off.
  • This sentence is used only when ATC can not issue a takeoff clearance immediately (e.g. because there is still traffic on the runway). Controllers must not use this command unless needed.
  • The phrase "(taxi into) position and hold" is no longer used.
  • Controller: Callsign, wind is heading at speed knots, runway number, cleared for takeoff
  • Pilot: Cleared for takeoff runway number, callsign
The controller authorizes the aircraft to take off.
  • This is the one and only clearance that gives a pilot permission to take off.
  • If you are holding short of a runway, this clearance also gives you permission to enter it and align. The controller does not need to tell you to line up and wait beforehand.
  • If the word immediate is added, you are only cleared for takeoff if you are able to do so within a very short time. Usually traffic is coming in on the same runway, so do not enter the runway if you are not ready for takeoff in this case.
  • Controller: Callsign, hold position, cancel takeoff, I say again cancel takeoff due to reason
  • Pilot: Holding position, callsign
The controller cancels the existing takeoff clearance (e.g. because there is an obstacle on the runway). This form is used when the aircraft has not started the takeoff roll yet.
  • Controller: Callsign, stop immediately!
  • Pilot: Stopping, callsign
The controller cancels the existing takeoff clearance (e.g. because there is an obstacle on the runway). This form is used when the aircraft has already started the takeoff roll.

Climb, cruise, descent

Phraseology Meaning Remarks
  • Pilot: Station, callsign, passing current altitude, climbing (descending) to altitude, other ATC clearances assigned
  • Controller: Callsign, station, radar contact, (squawk new squawk code), (new clearances)
The pilot has just been transferred to another controller and contacts him/her announcing the current altitude, the altitude (s)he was cleared to and any other ATC clearances previously assigned (SID/STAR, etc.). The controller identifies the aircraft on the radar screen, announces so and, if needed, assigns a new squawk code/issues further clearances. New clearances/squawk codes should be assigned only if needed and must be read back.
  • Controller: Callsign, climb (descend) and maintain new altitude
  • Pilot: Climb (descend) and maintain new altitude, callsign
Climb (or descend) to new altitude and hold it until further instructions are given. Flight levels below FL100 should be referred to as two digit numbers (to avoid confusion with headings).
  • Controller: Callsign, turn left (right) heading new heading
  • Pilot: Turn left (right) heading new heading, callsign
The aircraft is instructed to turn left/right to another heading. The pilot must execute the turn according to ATC instructions, even if it's not the most intuitive/direct way.
  • Controller: Callsign, proceed direct fix/navaid
  • Pilot: Proceeding direct fix/navaid, callsign
Proceed along a straight line towards fix/navaid.

Approach and landing

Phraseology Meaning Remarks
  • Controller: Callsign, cleared for ILS approach runway number
  • Pilot: Cleared for ILS approach runway number, callsign
After reaching the first fix of the ILS approach, follow the altitudes and flight path specified by the approach procedure.
  • The pilot must not descend before (s)he has reached the first fix, unless specifically cleared.
  • Some airports may have more than one ILS approach procedure – if that is the case, the controller will mention its name. Make sure to use the correct one.
  • Controller: Callsign, report established localizer runway number
  • Pilot: Will report established localizer runway number, callsign
The pilot must tell ATC when (s)he has caught the localizer and glideslope.
  • Controller: Callsign, continue approach
  • Pilot: Continue approach, callsign
The pilot should continue the approach. Generally used when the landing runway is still obstructed and the controller needs to delay the landing clearance. This is not an authorization to land.
  • Controller: Callsign, make number orbit(s) to the left/right
  • Pilot: Make number orbit(s) to the left/right, callsign
Make number circles to the left/right, then continue on the original heading. Used by ATC to space an aircraft from the one in front.
  • Controller: Callsign, enter (exit) holding pattern
  • Pilot: Enter (exit) holding pattern, callsign
Enter (exit) the holding pattern (circular/oval path, usually drawn at the beginning of the approach). If entering, continue to fly it until further clearance. Used by ATC to space an aircraft from the one in front.
  • Controller: Callsign, wind is heading at speed knots, runway number, cleared to land
  • Pilot: Cleared to land runway number, callsign
Land on the specified runway. This is the one and only clearance that authorizes an aircraft to land.
  • Controller: Callsign, go around
  • Pilot: Going around, callsign
Abort the landing and fly the published missed approach. Used when a controller deems that the landing would be unsafe.
  • Pilot: Station, callsign going around
  • Controller: Callsign, roger
The pilot aborts the landing and flies the published missed approach. Used when the pilot deems that the landing would be unsafe.

Emergency situations

Phraseology Meaning Remarks
  • Pilot: Mayday, mayday, mayday, station, callsign, nature of the emergency, intentions.
  • Controller: Callsign, roger, (squawk 7700), instructions.
The pilot declares an emergency (immediate attention is required).
  • The controller will ask the number of souls (people) on board, the fuel endurance (time before you exhaust the fuel) and whether you need equipment (rescue vehicles) when landing.
  • Do not declare an emergency to land earlier at a busy airport or otherwise abuse the system.
  • The pilot must declare an emergency when the aircraft is low on fuel if (s)he wants to land as soon as possible. Sometimes the expression minimum fuel is used to alert the controller about the situation; the controller, however, is not mandated to give priority unless an emergency is declared.
  • Pilot: Pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan, station, callsign, nature of the emergency, intentions.
  • Controller: Callsign, roger, instructions.
The pilot tells the controller (s)he's in distress, but that immediate attention is not required.
Pilot: Station, TCAS RA. The pilot tells the controller (s)he has received a TCAS resolution advisory. In case a TCAS RA is issued, follow the TCAS instructions and ignore any conflicting ATC instructions.
Pilot: Unable, TCAS RA. Used in case the instructions given by ATC can not be followed because they are conflicting to the ones given by the TCAS.
Pilot: Station, clear of conflict, returning to assigned clearance. Used after the TCAS has stated the aircraft is clear of conflict.

Ground/tower controller coordination

Aircraft crossing runways

This phraseology is used when a pilot needs to cross an active runway and the ground/tower controllers coordinate to issue crossing clearances.

Pilot Ground controller Tower controller Remarks
Callsign, holding short runway, request permission to cross. The pilot tells the ground controller (s)he's at the entrance of the active runway runway and asks the ground controller for permission to cross it.
Station Ground to Station Tower. The ground controller calls the tower controller on an intercom.
Station Tower. The tower controller replies.
Callsign on holding, request permission to cross runway runway, Station Ground. The ground controller asks the tower controller whether the aircraft can cross the active runway or not.
Cleared to cross runway, Station Tower. The tower controller clears the aircraft to cross the runway.
Station Ground. The ground controller ends the call.
Station Tower. The tower controller ends the call.
callsign, cleared to cross runway. The ground controller instructs the aircraft to cross (on frequency).
Cleared to cross runway, callsign. The pilot reads back the instructions.

Change of active runways

This phraseology is used by the tower controller to inform Ground that the active runways have changed.

Ground controller Tower controller Remarks
Station Tower to Station Ground. The tower controller calls the ground controller on the intercom.
Station Ground. The ground controller answers the call.
Arrival runway is runway, departure runway is runway, Station Tower. The tower controller informs the ground controller of the new runway configuration in use.
Arrival runway is runway, departure runway is runway, copied. The ground controller reads back the information.
Station Tower. The tower controller ends the call.
Station Ground. The ground controller ends the call.

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