Aircraft Radio Call Anatomy 103, Part 2

Don't sweat your position report.

In our last anatomy class on aircraft radio calls, we picked apart the location bone. We said, when reporting your position to ATC, you should state your vertical position, (altitude,) and your lateral position, (either over, or relative to, a point on the ground.) Reporting your altitude is easy. Reporting your aircraft’s lateral position to air traffic control should be simple also, but many inexperienced pilots have trouble making the call. Here’s why: Fixed-wing aircraft do not stand still.

Everybody Hold Everything. I Want to Speak

So there you are, flying along in flight, approaching the tank farm, (a highlighted landmark on your sectional map,) about 8 miles northwest of Fulton County Airport near Atlanta. You are all ready to tell County Tower, “Piper 774 Juliet Tango is over the tank farm at 3,500,” when suddenly:

“County Tower, Beechjet 891 Zulu Mike is 12 miles for Runway 8.”

“Beechjet 891 Zulu Mike, County Tower, cleared to land, Runway 8. Traffic will be departing the intersecting runway.”

“One Zulu Mike, cleared to land, Runway 8. Wind check.”

“Winds 350 at 8.”

“One Zulu Mike. Thanks.”

“Cessna 332 Foxtrot Alpha, County Tower, cleared for immediate takeoff Runway 32. Traffic is 10 miles out for Runway 8.”

“Cessna 2 Foxtrot Alpha, cleared for takeoff.”

By the time the radio opens up for your position report, the tank farm you were going to report over, is now more than 2 miles behind you. You had that radio call rehearsed in your mind, but the call you rehearsed is no longer true.

Now What?!


  • State your position relative to the point you were going to report: “Piper 774 Juliet Tango is 2 miles southeast of the tank farm,” or,
  • Report your position relative to something else. If you are calling an airport tower, your best choice is to report your position relative to the airport: “Piper 774 Juliet Tango is 6 miles northwest of Fulton County.”

Flexibility is the Key

Let’s wrap up. By all means, rehearse your planned position report. Rehearsing is another way of saying “Think before speaking,” but stay loose. Your moving airplane waits for no one, so it pays to keep your position reporting plan flexible. If you do brain lock and can’t come up with another way of stating your position, you can always circle your aircraft back to the point you planned to report and try again.

So far, we’ve discussed the conversation starter between you and ATC. I’ll be back soon with your next class in which we’ll discuss how your position report will vary depending upon your situation. That’s coming right up.

Photo courtesy of All people, call signs, and aircraft in these examples are fictional and created for training purposes.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Chun April 28, 2016 at 12:38 am

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