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.

ADS-B.
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.

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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.

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ATC Flight Following Animation

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Great Article on Radio Errors

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Experience on the Radio Can Be the Worst Teacher

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Making Mistakes on the Aircraft Radio

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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 […]

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