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Aviation Radio Communication: Ready to Roll

in Aviation Communication

Picking up from our last post, we’ll now cover the radio procedures to expect after you’ve successfully taxied to the departure runway. At this time, let’s assume we’ve reached Wittman Regional Airport’s Runway 9, and that we’re holding short of the runway at Taxiway B3 (see the airport diagram). We’re now ready to communicate our intention to take off and prepare for the possible responses we’ll receive from air traffic control (ATC), as well as from other aircraft (when the tower is closed).

Tower Open Tower Closed
Wittman (or Oshkosh, your choice) Tower Oshkosh Traffic
Skyhawk 123AB Skyhawk 123AB
At Runway Niner at Bravo Three At Runway Niner at Bravo Three
Ready for Takeoff Preparing to Depart
Oshkosh Traffic

A Look at the Specifics

In the Tower Open example, everything is fairly straightforward except that, in this instance, we include the taxiway designation in the call. This is necessary because, if you’ll refer to the airport diagram, you’ll see that the taxiway doesn’t go all the way to the end of the runway. Since it doesn’t, we’re actually considered to be holding short at an intersection, which necessitates the inclusion of the taxiway position. If the taxiway joined the runway at the runway threshold (meaning the end), we would simply state our position as “at runway niner.”

“On” vs. “At”

One thing you’ll need to watch is using “on” or “at” to describe your position. “At” (as used above) denotes we’re holding short of the runway; requesting permission to enter/cross the runway environment. Saying “on” would signify we’ve already entered the runway environment and are physically on the runway surface.

Why is this so important? For starters, using the wrong terminology could lead to confusion (and panic) amongst the controllers and other aircraft at the airport. You need the tower controller’s permission to actually enter the runway environment, so saying “on” Runway Niner when you’re in fact holding short of the runway could make ATC think you’ve entered the runway without authorization (which is a big deal). If another aircraft was on final approach for the runway, your presence on the runway could easily lead to a loss of separation and a potential traffic conflict (i.e. collision). Saying “at” communicates that you’re clear of the runway environment, which saves everyone the unnecessary stress.

Tower Responds: Intersection vs. Full-Length Takeoffs

Option #1 Option #2
Skyhawk 123AB Skyhawk 123AB
Wittman Tower Wittman Tower
Runway Niner at Bravo Three Back taxi into Position
Cleared for Takeoff Runway Niner
Cleared for Takeoff

Why the choices? In most cases, Option #1 is what you would probably hear. This option denotes that you won’t be using the portion of Runway 9 that is west of B3. Instead, you’re expected to pull onto the runway, turn left, and commence your takeoff roll. This is referred to as an intersection takeoff.

Intersection takeoffs are common when the runway length from the intersection to the end of the runway is adequate for the aircraft’s performance capabilities. As the entire runway is 6,179 feet long, an intersection departure from B3 provides more than sufficient takeoff distance for our Skyhawk. However, you still have the option of requesting full length if you’d prefer to use the entire runway.

Option #2, known as a full-length takeoff, allows us to begin our takeoff roll from the runway threshold. Upon entering the runway environment, we would turn right and taxi to the end of the runway. Once arriving at the threshold, we would turn around, line up with the runway centerline, and begin our takeoff roll. 

Full-length takeoffs are the most common form of takeoff; since the majority of runways (at towered airports, at least) have taxiways that extend to the runway threshold. If it’s necessary to back taxi into position (ex. taxiway closed for construction), tower will advise you to do so. If intersection takeoffs are also being used, you’ll often need to let tower know of your desire for full length in your radio call (“Ready for takeoff, request full length”).

Your Response to Option #1 Your Response to Option #2
Cleared for Takeoff Back Taxi into Position
Runway Niner at Bravo Three Cleared for Takeoff Runway Niner
Skyhawk 123AB Skyhawk 123AB

Non-Towered Operations

If the tower is closed at the time of our departure, it’s a good idea to broadcast a “preparing to depart” call (example above) once we’re ready to go. This call gives other aircraft in the vicinity an update on our position and allows them to inform us of their current positions. Consider the following possible responses:

Response #1 Response #2
Oshkosh Traffic Oshkosh Traffic
Archer 987YZ Bonanza 5432U
Short Final Runway Niner Five Miles Northwest
Oshkosh Traffic Inbound for Landing Runway Niner
Oshkosh Traffic

With Response #1, it’s a good idea for us to wait until the Archer has landed and exited the runway. In Response #2, we have plenty of time before the Bonanza reaches the airport; so we should be okay to depart. In these cases, our next broadcast would resemble the following:

Reply to #1  Reply to #2
Oshkosh Traffic Oshkosh Traffic
Skyhawk 123AB Skyhawk 123AB
Holding Short of Runway Niner  Departing Runway Niner
at Bravo Three for Landing Traffic for Southbound Departure
Oshkosh Traffic Oshkosh Traffic

Back Taxiing

If it’s necessary (or you choose) to back taxi into position, you’ll want to include that info as a part of your radio calls. Your transmission would look something like this:

Back Taxi Call

Oshkosh Traffic
Skyhawk 123AB
Back Taxiing Runway Niner
Oshkosh Traffic 

Once in position and ready to go, you’d then follow up with the Reply to #2 call above.

A Good Start

While not sufficient to address all possible situations you might encounter, the above examples should serve you well in most instances. Additionally, you’ll have your instructor aboard to assist with any unique circumstances that might arise. If you’re ever unsure of what’s going on – ask! Part of being a safe pilot is knowing when to seek assistance from others.

Something Special

In the future, we’ll spend some time examining special situations, as well as the necessary radio calls to deal with such events. We’ll also look at some of the “magic words” both pilots and ATC can use from time to time – and exactly what such words communicate. Until then, use the examples above as models from which to formulate your own radio calls.

Back to the Aviation Communication Series.


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