Radio Communication

It sounds very different from normal English, but it is easier than learning a new language:

  • limited vocabulary.
  • no verb conjugation; no adverbs, prepositions; no grammar.
  • order only matters sometimes.


  • roger: I hear you. I completely understand you. (Received) does not mean I agree or disagree.
  • wilco: I hear you. I completely understand you. And I will comply with your instructions. (will comply)
  • Unable: I am unable to comply with your instructions. (Sully)
  • Unfamiliar: I am unfamiliar with the reporting point you are referring to.
  • Say again / say again slowly.
  • Blocked: the last transmission was blocked; 2 people were trying to talk at the same time.
  • Stand by: I am busy right now. Please wait quietly for a moment. I will get back to you when I am able. (usually said by controller)
  • Over: I am done talking. Your turn to talk. (not used too much any more)
  • Out: This is my last transmission. I'm leaving the frequency. (not used too much any more)
  • CLEARED FOR THE OPTION: ATC authorization for an aircraft to make a touch-and-go, low approach, missed approach, stop and go, or full stop landing at the discretion of the pilot. It is normally used in training so that an instructor can evaluate a student's performance under changing situations.
  • looking for traffic / traffic in sight
  • heavy: > 300,000 pounds MTOW
  • Frequency changed approve: just tells the pilot to contact another frequency when (not IF) necessary!
  • short final: Short final means your in the final leg and fairly close to the runway, like less than 1/4 mile from landing.
  • I’ll call your base

Respond to yes/no questions (e.g. Do you have the airport in sight?)

  • Affirmative: Yes.
  • Negative: No.

avoid to (2) and for (4)


Item What you will hear
Code "Palo Alto Tower Information Mike"
Time "Time 2247 Zulu"
Wind "Wind three two zero at one one"
Visibility "Visibility one zero"
Sky Condition "Sky Conditions few could five thousand, one zero thousand scattered"
Temperature "two zero, dew point seven"
Altimeter "Altimeter 3005"
Runway "Visual approach in use, landing and departing runway tree-one"
Notice to airman "Caution for the bird activity on and in the vicinity of the airport"
"All departures advise ground control type of departure request."
"Advice on initial contact you have information Mike."

Two-way radio communications

Two way radio communication: identify by callsign; if the ATC does not call your callsign, the two-way radio communication is NOT established.

you say

  • call sign of the ATC facility you are calling
  • who: your call sign
  • where: your location
  • what: your request

they say

  • your call sign
  • their call sign

untowered airport or after hours, callsign: traffic (to all the other aircraft), e.g. Watsonville traffic

Ready to taxi: (to Groud)

Pilot: Palo Alto Ground, Cessna XXXXX, parked West Valley, taxi Tree-One with X, closed traffic.
       ----------------  ------------- ------------------  ------------------------------------
        their callsign   your callsign      location                 request

ATC replies with instructions:

ATC: Cessna XXXXX, taxi Tree-One via Uniform, Yankee, Yankee One. Advise Ground when runup complete.

Pilot reads back the info:

Pilot (Readback): XXX, runway Tree-One via Uniform, Yankee, Yankee One.

Types of departure you can request:

  • closed traffic / pattern work: stay in pattern.
  • straight-out departure
  • left / right 45 departure
  • left / right crosswind departure
  • left / right downwind departure
  • left / right 270 overhead departure

Location specific: (Noise abatement, can be found in ForeFlight: Airport->Comments->Remarks)

After runup: (to Ground)

Pilot: Ground, Cessna XXXXX, Runup Complete
       ------  ------------
      callsign   callsign
ATC: Cessna XXXXX, hold short Yankee One, contact Tower

(Initial call reply has runway; after runup no runway.)

Pilot (Readback): Cessna XXXXX, hold short Yankee One, contact Tower

Ready for takeoff: (to Tower)

Pilot: Palo Alto Tower, Cessna XXXXX, Ready for takeoff.

ATC: Cessna XXXXX, Palo Alto Tower, hold short Runway Three-One.

Pilot (Readback): Tower, Cessna XXXXX, holding short Three-One.

ATC: XXX, cleared for takeoff Three-One, left Dumbarton Departure, following Cessna on upwind.

Pilot (Readback): XXX, cleared for takeoff Three-One, left Dumbarton Departure, following Cessna.

Request flight following on fight

Pilot: Norcal Approach, Cessna XXXXX, 10 miles east of Livermore at 3,500 climbing to 4,500, request flight following to Palo Alto

Norcal: Cessna XXXXX, squawk 1234, ident, altimeter 29.98

Pilot: Cessna XXXXX, squawking 1234, ident, altimeter 29.98

Norcal: Cessna XXXXX, radar contact

Return for landing (to Tower)

Listen to ATIS, then talk to tower:

Pilot: Palo Alto Tower, Cessna XXXXX, Niles Canyon, inbound with Bravo.
       ---------------  ------------  ------------  ------------------
       their callsign   your callsign   location        request
ATC: Cessna XXXXX, Palo Alto Tower, make left traffic runway Tree One.
                                    make straight-in runway Tree One, report 3 miles final.
Pilot (Readback): XXX, left traffic Three One.

Types of arrival:

  • straight-in
  • left / right traffic (downwind entry)
  • left / right base entry

You may hear on the go make right traffic, left closed traffic on the go, that indicates the direction if you will stay in traffic pattern instead of full stop.

Joining the traffic Pattern (to Tower)

ATC: Cessna XXXXX, cleared to land runway Three-One, number 2, follow Cessna on 1-mile final.
Pilot (Readback): XXX, cleared to land Three-One, number 2, traffic in sight.
  • cleared for the option: any of go around, touch-and-go and stop-and-go.

In pattern, ATC may advise:

  • "I will call your base": stay on downwind until Tower asks you to turn base.

After landing (to Tower or Ground)

Tower may tell you "stay on this frequency" or "contact ground".

Pilot: Palo Alto Ground, Cessna XXXXX, on Zulu, taxi West Valley parking.
ATC: Cessna XXXXX, Palo Alto Ground, taxi to parking via Zulu, Yankee Two, Juliet.
Pilot (Readback): Cessna XXXXX, taxi Zulu, Yankee Two, Juliet.


  • 121.5 MHz: Aviation Distress (emergency)
  • 122.2 MHz: Universal FSS
  • 122.75 MHz: air-to-air
  • 122.9 MHz: MULTICOM


  • UNICOM: nongovernment, air/ground communication (if there's no tower or FSS); operated by a non-air traffic control private agency (FBO).
  • MULTICOM: 122.9, used when there's no tower, FSS or UNICOM; without a physical base station.
  • FSS: operated by FAA in Alaska; operated by Leidos (a private contractor) else where.
  • CTAF: may be the tower frequency when the tower is closed, or UNICOM, or FSS or MULTICOM.