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Pilot communication at uncontrolled airfields

Most soaring operations are conducted from small, uncontrolled airfields which require communication between pilots to safely maintain separation from each other in order to avoid a conflict or collision. This requires clear, concise, common radio etiquette and phraseology. Unfortunately, aviation seems to be in a radio phraseology “normalization of deviants” in which many users are not sure how they should be communicating so let’s clear a few things up.

Aeronautical Information Manual (FAR / AIM)

“Traffic in the area please advise.” In the Airman’s Information Manual under section 4-1-9 “Traffic in the area please advise is not a recognized self-announce position and/or intention phrase and should not be used under any condition.” During times of increased traffic, this phrase has caused multiple aircraft to respond simultaneously stepping on each other completely negating the entire purpose of radio communication, aircraft separation.

What is upwind?

You may hear “N12345 on the upwind” while climbing after takeoff. This is a common, yet incorrect phrase. Again, referring to the AIM sections 4-2-2 and 4-2-3 the “departure leg is the flight path which begins after takeoff and continues straight ahead along the extended runway centerline.” 

So what is the upwind? The AIM spells it out for us; “a flight path parallel to the landing runway in the direction of landing.”  Think military aircraft on an “initial” or overhead break for landing.

Don’t say “this is” or “with you”

“This is” or “With you.” Instead of “this is” simply say N12345.  Instead of “with you” simply state your status (“climbing, level, descending”) followed by your altitude. Let’s put it together. “N12345 level five thousand.” It sounds cleaner than “This is N12345 five thousand with you.”

Make your first call 10 miles out

The AIM says the initial call should be made at 10 miles.  How many times have we heard “ABC traffic N12345 five miles out” while lacking a cardinal direction? My two personal favorite calls were “I’m left of the airport” and “Negative contact all quadrants!” All though I was entertained I wasn’t sure how to use that information.

Don’t say “taking the active” or “clear of the active”

“Taking the active” or “Clear of the active.” All though commonplace “Active” runways do not exist at uncontrolled airports. Instead, clean up your phraseology with something like N12345 departing runway 36.”

It may be worth a moment to open up the AIM and review communications. The AIM instructs pilots to call out their downwind, base, final and entering or exiting a runway. You’ll increase the effectiveness of your communications, reduces radio clutter and sound more professional. Our job as airspace users is to help each other build a mental picture of our whereabouts. 

Glider Flying Handbook

ASA Glider Flying Handbook Beautifully illustrated full–color technical manual, for applicants preparing for glider category ratings and for currently certificated glider pilots who wish to improve their knowledge.

This is the FAA’s primary technical manual for the required aeronautical knowledge necessary to operate a glider. It is essential reading for applicants preparing for the exams for private, commercial, or flight instructor pilot certificates with a glider rating, as well as for currently certificated glider pilots who wish to improve their knowledge. Flight instructors will find this handbook a valuable training aid since it includes detailed coverage of aeronautical decision making, components and systems, aerodynamics, flight instruments, performance limitations, ground operations, flight maneuvers, traffic patterns, emergencies, soaring weather, soaring techniques, and cross-country flight.


The 2019 FAR/AIM is a reference book containing the regulations for general aviation, sport pilots, and instructors. This book includes regulations, Pilot’s Bill of Rights, a pilot/controller glossary, NASA aviation safety reporting form, and study list for specific certificates and ratings.

garret willat  Keith holds an ATP with 15,000+ hours, 10,000 glider tows, and is a CFIG with over 1,000 hours in sailplanes. With time in over 100 types from a humble Schweizer 2-33 up to Airbus 320 Captain. Along with currently flying his ASW-19, Cessna 180 and RV-4 he has a broad spectrum of aviation experience. Keith currently flys the OV-10 Bronco for Cal-Fire totaling six radios with a capability to monitor 12 frequencies at one time, knows the importance of quick, concise, and proper radio transmission.