Ten Simple Tips for Dealing With ATC

Contrary to popular belief, air traffic controllers do not have hooves and pitchforks. Nothing befumbles private pilots more than communicating with air traffic control. Many of us simply don’t fly ‘in the system’ often enough to be comfortable with the lingo, while others have a genuine fear of messing up a radio call. Read on for a few simple tips to help you in your communication with ATC.


  1. Don’t Rush. Radio calls are supposed to be concise, but they should also be clear. Don’t talk at 100 miles per hour.
  2. Be Concise. Leave off unnecessary words and phrases. Instead of “Approach, 456TA ‘with you at’ three-thousand-five-hundred,” say “Approach, 456TA, three-thousand-five-hundred.”
  3. Think. Before checking in or making a request, think about what you are going to say and phrase it in your mind.
  4. Listen. Before checking in on a new frequency or making a request, stop and listen so as not to step on anyone else.
  5. Respond Quickly. When a controller issues a new heading or altitude, respond quickly before the controller has a chance to forget the exact clearance that was issued.
  6. Carry a Pen and Paper. Always have a pen and paper on hand to copy ATIS and amendments to your route.
  7. Ask. Never be afraid to ask for clarification if you have the slightest doubt about an ATC instruction or clearance.
  8. Use Reminders. Always set your bugs to your newly assigned heading and altitude. If your airplane doesn’t have one, write it down.
  9. Be Honest. If you are unable to comply with an instruction for any reason, let the controller know.
  10. Remember Who’s Boss. You are the PIC. Never accept a clearance that will endanger the safety of flight or lead to a violation of the FARs.


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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

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