Airport Communications at Uncontrolled Airports

Airport communications seem to have a mystical property about them. What is the proper thing to say? When do I say what? What if I say something wrong? Will they shoot me out of the sky if I don't say the right thing at the right time? Well, relax. No one is on the ground with a vaporizing laser waiting for you to make a mistake. At least not while you're learning to fly and learning and becoming comfortable with airport communications.

When you're flying around a non controlled airport, that's an airport without a control tower, you are radioing for courtesy and safety talking to other pilots in the area. There is no requirement for you to provide any airport communications at all and there may actually be other aircraft with no radio aboard. So if its not required and others may not even have a radio, why do it? Again, its courtesy and safety. Any time you can let other pilots in the traffic area know where you are the safer you will be. However, do not assume that just because you announce where you are or what you are doing that everyone heard, understood or knows what you are doing or where you are. I see it happen all the time. A guy radios in that he is taking off and he rolls with someone on final behind him either without a radio or for some reason missed his transmission. I've even had someone take off from the other end of the runway while my student and I are on final to land on the other end. We had been doing touch and goes for about an hour but this guy never heard us on the radio even after we made specific announcements just for his information. Once he started down the runway he saw us and then radioed us to ask our intention. I told him our intention was to head back to our airport which seemed to be the safest thing to do at the time. Assume no one heard you and someone might be right on top or underneath you at any time. Keep your eyes working outside the cockpit. Your airport communications may only be through seeing and not hearing.

So if someone is listening, what should you say? Tell them who or what airport you are talking to, then who you are, then your intentions, and lastly what airport again. McGregor traffic, Aeronca 3584echo, taking off runway 17, McGregor traffic. Very short and sweet. One thing to remember is that the frequency you are on is used by airports all over the place and there may be a pilot a hundred miles away using it. There is only so much time for each guy to say what he has to say so give everyone as much of that time as possible. Ok, so we said where we were. Again, people at other airports may be using the same frequency so we have to specify which airport we are at. Second, who you are. Aeronca is something most pilots would probably recognize. If its a Pober Pixie, most people wouldn't and since its an experimental, you can just say "experimental 3584echo". Remember you are trying to identify yourself. I fly a little blue biplane that is an experimental. If I announce "blue biplane" I have identified myself better than if I gave an N number or the term experimental. Suddenly pilots are looking for a biplane in the pattern.

The next item is our intention. If you're intention is to take off on runway 17 say it and do it. There is no reason to say "taking the runway" then roll out, sit on the end of the runway and say "taking off of runway 17" and so on. Say exactly what you are going to do and do it now. If you're going to take off, say it and if you can do it safely roll out and take off. Once again, don't provide excessive amounts of information. "McGregor traffic, uh red and blue Mooney 1234tango charlie will be taking off on the active runway, I believe that's runway 17. We will be on a south bound departure out of the pattern flying at approximately four thousand five hundred feet in route to Las Vegas, Nevada. MeGregor traffic". I have actually heard worse. "McGregor traffic, Mooney 1234tango charlie, taking off runway 17, south departure, McGregor traffic". Say it short and sweet. I don't care what you do once your out of the pattern and I can't remember all of that anyway.

As you're arriving at the airport, before you're anywhere near the pattern, listen for traffic. Airport communications is more than talking its also listening. That will give you a good idea of the activity. Remember though, no one is required to be on a radio so look out for those who might not be transmitting. Depending on the activity and the speed of your plane, announce your location prior to the airport and your intention. "McGregor traffic, RV123xray tango, ten miles to the east to enter a left downwind runway 17, McGregor traffic". If I'm in a slow aircraft I might wait until I'm five miles out just because of the time involved in getting there. When you get close enough to enter the pattern announce "McGregor traffic, RV123xray tango, 45 degree entry to left downwind runway 17, McGregor traffic". Just before you enter the downwind leg "McGregor traffic, RV123xray tango, entering left downwind runway 17, McGregor". Next, "McGregor traffic, RV123xray tango, turning left base runway 17, McGregor". Lastly, look down the approach path for any aircraft that may be coming in on a straight approach and call McGregor traffic, RV123xray tango, turning final runway 17, McGregor". If you're doing touch and goes you might say that at the same time "McGregor traffic, RV123xray tango, turning final runway 17 touch and go, McGregor".

Remember, with airport communications you are simply telling your intentions. An intention is something that happens before an action. Announce what you are going to do before you do it. In fact say it, wait a few seconds for some one to reply if they need to and then do it. If you say you are turning at a particular point, other pilots in the pattern will look for you at that point to find you. Give them time to respond and react if necessary.

One note. The only thing you are specifically not supposed to say is "all traffic advise". You will still hear someone call in from fifteen miles out on a straight in final wanting all traffic to let him know what they are doing. First, he should be listening to the traffic and second, that just adds conversation to the airport communications frequency that is unnecessary and may already be crowded.

So its pretty easy. Just say what you mean and mean what you say. Listen. And remember there may be others out there that aren't or can't listen or transmit, be looking outside for anything and anyone. Airport communications aren't a mystery and you can handle it as well as anyone.

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