Aircraft Radio Call Anatomy 103

“County Tower, Piper 774 Juliet Tango. Over the tank farm at 3,500. Inbound for landing.”

Flight training is back in session, and today’s anatomy class looks at the second bone of an aircraft radio transmission: your location. Whenever your aircraft is not in radar or visual contact with air traffic control (ATC,) you are required to state your position laterally and vertically on initial contact with ATC.

Report Your Altitude

Although the rule of thumb is to state your position laterally first, let’s examine the vertical position first because it is the easiest to address. Vertical position is nothing more than your altitude. All you need to do is state your current altitude if your aircraft is level; or, the altitude you are passing in a climb or a descent and the altitude you plan to hold.


“Piper 774 Juliet Tango, 3,500.”

“Piper 774 Juliet Tango, passing 4,200 for 3,500.”

Report Over, or Relative To

Stating your lateral position is equally simple. Don’t get wrapped around the axle just because there are many ways to state position. You can:

  1. Report over a charted reporting point shown on a navigation map.
  2. “Piper 774 Juliet Tango is over the tank farm.” (See the illustration above.)
    “Piper 774 Juliet Tango is over PAYTN.”

  3. Report your general direction and distance from an airport, or charted reporting point.
  4. “Piper 774 Juliet Tango is 8 miles northwest of Fulton County.”
    “Piper 774 Juliet Tango is 2 miles south of the tank farm.”

  5. Report your radial and DME from a VOR. This is a good choice if you are trying to establish an exact position for radar contact by ATC. For position reporting to an airport tower in VFR conditions, this method may be overkill.
  6. “Piper 774 Juliet Tango is on the Atlanta 320 degree radial for 15 DME.”

No Sweat

Any of these choices is fine, so pick one and don’t sweat it. One other note. The Airman’s Information Manual emphasizes the need for brevity in your radio transmissions. There is no need to turn a simple position report into an essay:

“Piper 774 Juliet Tango is about halfway between Six Flags and the town of Douglasville and just slightly north of Interstate 20.”

That’s way more information than ATC needs, and it wastes valuable time on the radio.

As simple as position reporting can be, many inexperienced pilots still sweat the call. I’ll explain why tomorrow, so stay tuned.

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