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Aviation Radio Communication: Magic Words – Part Two

in Aviation Communication

Following up on our previous post, we’ll look at additional aeronautical terms you’ll undoubtedly encounter in your interactions with ATC (Air Traffic Control). Whereas some terms will become a regular part of your flying, you’ll rarely (if ever) come across others in real-world operations. Regardless of the frequency of each phrase’s actual usage, a proper understanding of such nomenclature can help maximize your situational awareness to the greatest extent possible.

Over/Out: Though not commonly used, the terms over and out both appear in the FAA’s Pilot/Controller Glossary. The FAA defines “over” as “My transmission is ended; I expect a response.” As you can probably guess, the official definition for “out” is “the conversation is ended and no response is expected.” Let’s look at some possible uses:

To Get ATC’s Attention                                                       

Oshkosh Tower, Skyhawk 123AB, Over

Changing Frequencies

[Tower Says]      Skyhawk 123AB, Contact Departure on 127.0
[You Respond]  Departure on 127.0, Skyhawk 123AB, Out

In the real world, the vast majority of pilots and controllers simply omit the words “over” and “out” from their transmissions (everything else remains the same). In most cases, it’s perfectly obvious when you expect a reply or are making your final transmission on the frequency; so in such instances an over or out call is largely unnecessary. However, if you hear such calls or slip some in yourself, know that you’re still operating in compliance with approved FAA terminology. Just be sure not to say “over and out” in the same transmission, as this conveys contradictory meanings and is guaranteed to brand you as a rookie (possibly to the humor of other pilots on the frequency).

On a Humorous Note…

One of the funniest things I’ve had happen while airborne (in my opinion, at least) was when I gave an introductory flight to a potential student several years ago. Said individual had flown a few times in the past and claimed to be perfectly adept at ATC communications. To a large extent, he was competent at formulating basic aeronautical transmissions. However, I nearly lost it when he began throwing in “10-4” with some of his radio calls.

While a staple of law enforcement terminology, “10-4” is not part of the aviation vernacular. You may think you sound (perhaps you’ll even feel) like a cop, but you won’t impress ATC or your fellow fliers. In fact, you’ll just be supplying fodder for their hangar flying stories and airport jokes. With this in mind, watch the cop shows sparingly, Sipowicz.

Hold Short: If you learn nothing else, make sure you develop a firm understanding of the term “hold short” and its requirements. Improper understanding of and/or failure to comply with hold short instructions is responsible for an unacceptable number of runway incursions, near misses, and aircraft collisions that occur throughout aviation. One of the easiest things you can do to safeguard yourself and others is to pay attention to all hold short instructions, read back the instructions verbatim, and maintain situational awareness throughout your airport surface operations. If you’re ever in doubt or unsure of what’s going on – ASK! At the risk of appearing foolish or unskilled, asking for clarification is the smartest thing you can do to promote safe flying and avoid unwanted surprises.

At towered airports, you’ll occasionally receive instructions to “hold short” of a particular runway, taxiway, or intersection. In most instances, you’ll also be told where (in reference to another taxiway or runway) to hold short. When this happens, you must read back the instructions properly and comply with them.

In terms of responding to hold short instructions, you’ll need to include three essential components in your transmission: 1. The words “hold short” (verbatim) 2. The runway/taxiway/intersection to hold short of (and, if applicable, where you’ll be holding short) 3. Your full aircraft call sign. Let’s look at a few examples (airport diagram available here):

Hold Short Instruction #1                                                 

  • Skyhawk 123AB                                                                  
  • Oshkosh Ground                                                                 
  • Taxi to Runway One Three                                              
  • Hold Short of Runway Niner [at Bravo One]             

Response to Instruction #1                                              

  • Taxi to One Three                                                               
  • Hold Short of Runway Niner [at Bravo One]              
  • Skyhawk 123AB                                                                 

Hold Short Instruction #2

  • Skyhawk 123AB
  • Oshkosh Ground
  • Join Taxiway Juliet
  • Taxi to Runway Three Six
  • Hold Short of Runway Three One
  • At Charlie One

Response to Instruction #2

  • Join Taxiway Juliet                                                                                                
  • Taxi to Runway Three Six
  • Hold Short of Runway Three One
  • At Charlie One
  • Skyhawk 123AB

Or, if these instructions are confusing for you:

Acceptable Response to Any Hold Short Instruction(s)

[-airport name] Ground
Skyhawk 123AB, [Student Pilot (if applicable)]
Say Again Please

Never hesitate to ask for clarification if you’re not 100% sure of ATC’s request. Additionally, you always have the option to request progressive taxi instructions, as outlined below.

Request Progressive Taxi: The FAA recognizes that several airport surfaces are confusing concrete labyrinths (even with an airport diagram), so the powers that be came up with some magic words to help us navigate these mazes. When you call ground to begin the taxi process, end your transmission with the phrase “request progressive taxi.” When you do so, this tells ATC you’d like turn-by-turn guidance (much like a human GPS) for the entire route to your departure runway. It also lets the controllers know you’re not familiar with the airport, which spurs them to pay extra attention to you.

During a progressive taxi, the ground controller will continually advise you of your next course of action. Such instructions might resemble, “In 300 feet, turn left onto taxiway golf” or “Runway 11 is 500 feet ahead. Hold short of runway 11.” If you’re still unsure, stop and ask for clarification until you get things sorted out.

Don’t think requesting progressive taxi instructions makes you any less of a pilot. Even airline pilots and corporate crews sometimes need a hand from ground control, so you definitely shouldn’t feel embarrassed to request an additional set of eyes. In fact, ATC will actually look favorably upon you as a smart pilot who’s helping reduce the risk of something bad happening. Even if they’re busy, controllers would much rather provide you with directions than risk a runway incursion, near miss, or collision. It might take a little longer, but being late always beats the alternative.

Better in Threes

If it’s true that good things come in threes, you won’t want to miss our next installment. We’ll check out even more special aviation phrases that will make your flying safer, more efficient, and have you sounding like a pro. Until then, ask your instructor (or an ATC professional) to give you some practice hold short instructions/scenarios. It’s just one of many skills you can never hone too much.

Back to the Aviation Communication Series.


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