Updated 27 January 2017.

Yesterday, I published an article about what to say to ATC when you have identified traffic on your onboard ADS-B screen. Based on feedback from several air traffic controllers, who all responded similarly, I’m going to change my recommendation.

Previously, I said when ATC points out traffic and you notice the traffic on your ADS-B screen, you may tell ATC, “[Call sign] has the traffic on ADS-B”. I also said, as an alternative, you may substitute “TIS-B” for “ADS-B”. This, as it turns out, was not good advice.

From www.faa.org. Public domain photo.

ID-ing Traffic on ADS-B is Irrelevant to ATC Ops

Here’s the truth of the matter. The only thing an air traffic controller cares about is whether or not you spot the traffic through the windscreen of your aircraft. Noting the traffic on your ADS-B set or, if you have it, on your Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) does not affect ATC operations in any way.

If you spot the traffic through your windscreen, in some circumstances, the controller may apply traffic separation rules based on you maintaining visual contact with the traffic. Visual separation rules cannot be applied under any circumstance if you can’t get eyes on the traffic.

It comes down to this. If ATC calls out traffic to you and you pick it up on ADS-B or TCAS, but you don’t actually see the traffic through your windscreen, the correct and only response is, “Negative contact”. If you see the traffic through the windscreen, your response should be, “Traffic in sight”. Telling the controller you have ID-ed the traffic on ADS-B or on TCAS is irrelevant and unnecessary.

Then Is There Any Value in TIS-B?

The real value in the Traffic Information Service component in ADS-B is it helps you build situational awareness of traffic in your area. It may also help you spot traffic when ATC calls it out to you. TIS-B may even help you spot traffic when the controller is too busy to point it out.

Perhaps someday the FAA will develop new ATC procedures based on your ability to ID traffic on your ADS-B set. That day has not yet arrived. Until it does, the only two standard and useful responses to a traffic call out from ATC are “Traffic in sight” or “Negative contact”.

Questions? Comments? Write to me below in the comments section, or send an email directly to Jeff@ATCcommunication.com.


Is it safe to fly through a Military Operations Area (MOA)? It depends.

A pilot named Drew recently asked me if I had any advice about how to contact ATC to check the status of a MOA. Here’s what I told him.

Show Resources

Yankee 1 and 2 MOAs. (Click to see larger version.)

Yankee 1 and 2 are controlled by Boston Center.

Aeronautical Information Manual

3−4−5. Military Operations Areas

c. Pilots operating under VFR should exercise extreme caution while flying within a MOA when military activity is being conducted. The activity status (active/inactive) of MOAs may change frequently. . . Prior to entering an active MOA, pilots should contact the controlling agency for traffic advisories.

d. MOAs are depicted on sectional, VFR Terminal Area, and Enroute Low Altitude charts.

Update. 11 January 2017

An Example Supporting the FAA’s Guidelines on Use of Call Sign

via email set on 5 Jan.:

“Hi Jeff,

I wanted to weigh in on the debate about whether or not to include your make and model in an abbreviated callsign. Just the other day, I was inbound to Palo Alto tower, and there was another aircraft in the pattern with a very similar sounding callsign. The only thing that saved us from getting confused was that he was in a Skyhawk and I was in a Cherokee. It’s a good thing, since at one point I was #2 for landing and he was #1. Including the model in my callsign may very well have saved me from making a bad mistake.

So my vote would be to keep the make and/or model.

Thanks, Ian”

Your Question of the Week

When flying VFR, and using ATC’s radar advisory service, otherwise known as flight following, you are free to change altitudes at will. A controller will remind you altitude changes are at your discretion as long as you advise the controller before changing altitudes. Here’s your question. Under what circumstances can a controller restrict your altitude even though you are flying VFR? When you think you know the answer to that question, go to ATCcommunication.com/answers. There you will find the answer to this question along with a complete explanation of how that answer was derived.


ATC Flight Following Animation

December 11, 2016

We’ve talked many times about techniques for picking up VFR flight following with ATC. Let’s go one step further and look at the process in a real time animation. Before you click the link at the bottom of this article to see the animation, a few notes. The animation used in this lesson is part […]

Read the full article →

ATC Language Program for Non-English Speakers

October 29, 2016

In development. A training program that teaches student pilots how to speak the English words used by ATC.* This will be a language program with a very narrow scope. It is intended for non-English speaking people. It is not a how-to-talk-to-ATC course for native English speakers. To avoid the need to interpret the program’s instructions […]

Read the full article →

Taxi Clearance Anxiety

September 30, 2016

If you have ever felt butterflies in your stomach when faced with contacting Ground Control for taxi clearance, you have experienced something I call Taxi Clearance Anxiety. It’s a made-up term but the phenomenon has real consequences. Some pilots go out of their way to avoid controlled airports with complicated taxiway layouts. Even high-time pro […]

Read the full article →

The Difference Between ATC Clearances and Advisories

September 15, 2016

The following transmission from a tower controller has a clearance and an advisory. Can you tell which is which? ATC says, “Skyhawk 9130 Delta, Runway 16, line up and wait. Traffic will be crossing downfield.” When the controller said, “Runway 16, line up and wait,” he was directing Skyhawk 9130 Delta to do something. When […]

Read the full article →

Great Article on Radio Errors

September 8, 2016

Here’s a worthwhile read about radio errors, by John Zimmerman, at studentpilotnews.com. The issues raised in this article are just as prevalent today as they were when this article was written in 2012. Enjoy, or read it and weep, depending on your perspective. http://studentpilotnews.com/2012/05/09/the-7-deadly-sins-of-radio-communications/

Read the full article →

Contacting Flight Service; Searching for IFR Traffic in an Uncontrolled Pattern

August 30, 2016

If you can get all the aviation weather data you need online, do you really need to know how to contact Flight Service on the radio? It depends on who you ask. I say yes. A Flight Service agent can save time and point you in the right direction. An agent can quickly sift through […]

Read the full article →

Experience on the Radio Can Be the Worst Teacher

August 18, 2016

Experience means jack if you aren’t open to learning something new from your experiences. Fair warning, learning by experience without distinguishing good from bad can lead you to very dark and dangerous places. Nowhere is this more true than in an aircraft cockpit. Let me explain. I’ve been flying fixed wing airplanes since I was […]

Read the full article →

Making Mistakes on the Aircraft Radio

June 21, 2016

In this episode, we’ll talk about why you make mistakes on the radio and what it says about your performance as a pilot. I think my analysis will surprise you (in a good way). Also, some pilots have asked interesting questions about the details of reporting your position in an uncontrolled airport pattern. Just when […]

Read the full article →