Plane & Pilot
Sunday, February 1, 2004

Faces Behind The Microphone

Twenty-six tips to help you get more from air traffic control

atcPilots and air traffic controllers share a unique relationship, a mutual trust and understanding that supports the modern system of flight. Virtually every time a pilot climbs into the cockpit of an airplane, he or she engages in some sort of verbal exchange with the ATC environment.
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16 Get ATIS before transitioning to your destination airport’s airspace, and let the controller know you’ve picked up the most current information. It’s perfectly acceptable and advisable to ask a controller for permission to go off frequency momentarily to pick up ATIS if necessary.

17 Plan ahead—know the airspace around and through which you plan to fly and know how you’re going to transition to that airspace.

18 Offer specific reporting points. Saying “I’m over the shoreline” doesn’t necessarily pinpoint a location. Utilize charted VFR reporting points whenever possible.

19 Use a minimum amount of words when communicating and remember to provide the necessary information: who you are, what you are, where you are, where you want to go and what your service request entails. Once the initial call to ATC has been made (“So Cal, Cessna 123”) and ATC has responded (“Cessna 123, go ahead”), then proceed with your location and request (“Cessna 123 is a Skylane over the Queen Mary and would like flight following to Fullerton”).

20 Maintain open lines of communication and don’t be afraid to ask questions or make requests.

Tower Facilities
Don Bohr is the tower chief at Hawthorne Airport in Los Angeles, Calif. He has been a TRACON facility controller and a pilot, and currently works under one of the busiest airspace systems in the country. Bohr maintains that air traffic control is a cooperative venture.

Says Bohr, “I have a job to do, and so do the people who work with and around me: It’s the safe, orderly and expeditious flow of aircraft. In order for us to do our job effectively, [pilots] have to know what [their] job is to do it effectively…flying an airplane is not like getting into a car.” Bohr offers some insight toward facilitating this effective working relationship in a tower environment.

21 Pre-fly—know where you’re going, what you’re going to do and how you’re going to get there. Have a solid plan and idea in your mind before you take off.

22 Don’t ever assume you know what a controller means; instead, always ask for clarification if something doesn’t make perfect sense.

23 Reporting points—call when you’re directly over the point. This means when you can see the intersection, refinery or park below the airplane when looking out the window, not when the point becomes visible over the cowling. This will help the controllers sequence traffic more accurately.

24 Become more aware of your surroundings; an airport traffic pattern can get extremely busy. If a controller says, “7AA, you are number three following a Cessna,” make sure to spot both airplanes in the pattern before making the commitment to land.

25 If you’re unfamiliar with the area or if you’re a new pilot, tell the controller; they’ll speak slowly and help you feel more comfortable with the new environment.

26 First impressions are VERY important. Both pilots and controllers form impressions of each other with the first transmission. Take pride in representing yourself and think briefly about your phraseology before keying the microphone and talking to the controller.


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