Making the right call
June 1, 2019
Imagine you are a new pilot and live in an area where you don't have an air traffic control tower (ATC) at your community airport. Perhaps you can fly from point A to a number of point B's and C's without speaking to ATC. You may be wary of the day you actually have to push the microphone button and broadcast your information across the air waves to ATC.
That day will come and you need to be able to make the right call.
Well, today is the day. So, you have your communications radio on and you are monitoring the tower frequency. If traffic is light and the tower is not busy, ATC prefers that you call and provide all your information in the initial contact. For instance, "Village Tower. Cessna 123 X-ray, 12 miles west with Charlie inbound for full stop." Doing this reduces the number of additional questions ATC will need to ask and will reduce overall radio traffic.
Now, if ATC is busy, like when it is difficult to get a break in radio traffic so you can call up, keep your transmission simple by saying "Village Tower Cessna 123 X-ray." This gives ATC time to record your call sign. After the tower responds you will be able to give them your location, ATIS, and your request for landing.
The point is to be respectful of the Tower Controllers and your fellow aviators.
Keep in mind that your aircraft radio is not a CB radio. Before you transmit, know what you are going to say well before you say it. Remember also to include your call sign at the end of your read back to assist ATC (as well as other pilots) in knowing which aircraft the read back is from and so other pilots with perhaps similar call signs or tail numbers will know that information wasn't for them.
Your transmission should always be made in a clear voice, and the message transmitted should be concise and as brief as possible. Extended chatter on the radio makes it difficult for other pilots to call in. It also makes it difficult for ATC to transmit instructions to other pilots in the airport operations area or in the pattern.
Student pilots should always advise ground control and also the tower that you are a student pilot. This helps ATC to assist you and perhaps keep an eye on you. It also helps controllers to know you are a student pilot so that they can avoid giving you complicated instructions that could cause you undue concern or confusion.
For additional guidance and information, please review the Aeronautical Information Manual, Chapter 4, Section 2, Radio Communications, Phraseology and Techniques, 4-2-1. It is a relatively short section to read, and well worth the few minutes it will take to review the basics.
As you start your aviation career or aviation hobby, you want to do so being as safe, smart, and careful as possible.
Learn, practice, and be prepared to make the right call.