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 pilots feel Taxi Clearance Anxiety prior to calling for taxi instructions at the nation’s biggest baddest airports. I’m talking about places such as Chicago’s O’Hare or New York’s JFK.

If you fly long enough, sooner or later you are going to be faced with the choice of landing at or overflying a complex airport. It would be a shame to let Taxi Clearance Anxiety trip you up or prevent you from using an airport that is convenient for your route of flight.

In today’s show, I have tips and techniques to help you overcome your anxiety about contacting Ground Control for a taxi clearance.

What Happened to Expedite?

Have you heard ATC use the term “expedite” lately? I sure haven’t. There’s a good reason why most controllers don’t use the term very often, if at all. We’ll talk about what expedite really means and what you might hear instead on the radio.

All that, plus your Question of the week, which this time is a brain-crushing exercise. Fun for masochists and eager pilots alike! Onward.

Show Notes:

Taxi Clearance Anxiety

1. Before calling for taxi clearance, study the airport diagram but try to focus on that portion of the airport that lies between your parking position and the runway in use.
2. Listen to the ground frequency for a minute or 2 to get a feel for how Ground Control is handling other aircraft.
3. Get a pen or pencil and paper in hand before contacting Ground Control.
4. Write your taxi clearance using whatever shorthand notes work for you. For “hold short”, I use a “/”. I represent taxiways as uppercase letters. For example, Taxiway Lima would be written “L”. I write turn directions as lower case letters, i.e. “r” = turn right and “l” = turn left. So rR would read as “right on Taxiway Romeo”.
5. Once taxiing is underway, refer often to your notes, the airport diagram, and compare these to the taxiway signs ahead to make sure you keep on track.
6. If something doesn’t look right, ask Ground for clarification.
7. If you get lost, stop and ask ATC for help.
8. If all else fails, ask Ground for a “progressive taxi”. Don’t do this as a matter of habit when you can navigate around the airport without help.
9. I have extensive guidance and plenty of exercises for copying taxi clearances in my books Radio Mastery for VFR Pilots and in the Radio Mastery for VFR Pilots Workbook. Both are available right now at Amazon.com.*


1. ATC rarely uses the term “expedite” anymore.
2. The move away from the term probably stems from a misinterpretation. Some incorrectly think it means “go fast”.
3. Expedite means, do something without delay.
4. These days, controllers are more likely to say “Without delay” instead of “Expedite”.

Your Question of the Week

This week’s question is more of an exercise. I’m going to give you a complicated taxi clearance and I want you to write it on paper using your own version of shorthand.

For this exercise, we are going to use the airport diagram at General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’ve included the diagram in the show notes for this show. The ATIS sounds like this:

“Milwaukee Airport Information Zulu, 17:54 Zulu weather. Sky clear, visibility 7 miles, wind 080 at 10, altimeter 29.98. ILS or Visual Approach, Runway 7R in use. Landing and departing 7L and 7R. Bird activity in the vicinity of the airport. All departing aircraft contact Milwaukee Clearance Delivery on 120.8 prior to taxi. Advise on initial contact you have received Information Zulu.”

You are currently sitting on the airport’s South Ramp near Taxiway R3 with your engine running. You have contacted Clearance Delivery and stated you received Information Zulu. Clearance assigned a transponder code for departure and told you to contact Milwaukee Control on 121.8 for taxi clearance. You’ve switched to 121.8 and listened for a minute to get a feel for how other aircraft are being routed for taxi. Unfortunately, the only aircraft that have talked on the frequency are airliners taxiing from the airline terminal. You are in a Cessna 172 on the South Ramp, so no help there.

If you have pen and paper ready, I’m about to play that clearance. If you aren’t ready to write, pause this show and get what you need. When you are ready to copy, hit play.

When you think you have the clearance copied correctly on paper, go to ATCcommunication.com/answers. There you find a complete example of the correctly copied clearance along with a full explanation of how that copy was derived.

*Disclosure: I receive a small commission when you use links at ATCcommunication.com to make a purchase at Amazon.com.


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 he said, “Traffic will be crossing downfield,” he was advising the pilot of a circumstance that is relevant to the flight.

When a controller tells you to do something, you are required to read back that information. The readback lets the controller evaluate your understanding of what he just told you to do. If after listening to your readback he feels you did not understand him correctly, he can provide additional information to clarify his meaning.

An advisory message from ATC is designed to make you aware of a circumstance that affects your flight. ATC advisories do not require you to take action. Note in our example, “Traffic crossing downfield” tells you why ATC is directing you to line up and wait. It’s good information but does not require you to do anything directly in response. Lining up and waiting on the runway happens in response to the clearance that came earlier, not in response to the advisory that came after the clearance.

In summary, when ATC tells you to do something, read back what he tells you to. When ATC provides information that does not require you to do anything, there is no requirement to read back the information.

Here’s how you would reply to the example transmission at the beginning of this article. “Skyhawk 9130 Delta, Runway 16, line up and wait.” That’s it. You would note, but not read back the bit about traffic crossing downfield.

One last bit of advice. If ATC gives you advisory information only, acknowledge the advisory with your call sign. For example, if ATC says, “Skyhawk 9130 Delta, traffic your 1 o’clock and 10 miles, westbound, 1,000 above you, no factor.” This advisory is helpful but it does not require you to do something with your aircraft in response. Simply reply, “Skyhawk 9130 Delta.” This tells the controller you heard him. Saying nothing in response to an advisory-only would leave the controller wondering whether you heard him. Absent any acknowledgement from you, he would likely repeat the advisory.

Questions about the distinction between a clearance and an advisory? Comment below or write to me directly at Jeff@ATCcommunication.com.

Before you go

Are you in the market for a new radio headset? I can help with your research.

Check out my Headset Buyer’s Guide for reviews from fellow pilots and some recommendations of my own.


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