Audio Lesson #6: Being Dead Wrong on the Aircraft Radio

Most pilots use non-standard radio phraseology at one time or another. Most of the time, they get away with it. One day in March, three decades ago, non-standard phraseology killed 335 people.
Los Rodeos Airport, Tenerife, Canary Islands. KLM 4805 (in red) backtracks on Runway 30 and begins a takeoff roll without clearance from Tower. KLM 4805 collides with Pan Am's Clipper 1736 (in blue,) as the Clipper tries to taxi off the runway.

Show Notes:

  1. Most pilots use non-standard phraseology at one time or another. Many pilots use non-standard phrases as a habit.
  2. Non-standard radio phraseology is a radio call that does not meet the standards set in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) and the Air Traffic Controller’s manual.
  3. For example, when Tower clears you for takeoff, the AIM’s standard readback is: “Cleared for takeoff.” A non-standard readback might be: “Cleared to go.”
  4. We fall into the trap of using non-standard phrases because we generally get away with using them.
  5. Air traffic controllers are very flexible, and will usually accept a readback of “Climbing to fourteen,” as a substitute for the standard phrase: “Climb and maintain one-four thousand.”
  6. This acceptance of non-standard phraseology indicates, incorrectly, that it is okay to talk this way.
  7. Some day, you are going to find yourself in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and the use of non-standard phraseology is going to get you, and perhaps other people, in deep serious trouble.
  8. The air disaster at Tenerife is an eye-opening example of how dangerous it is to use non-standard phraseology.

Your Turn:

Have you ever been corrected by an air traffic controller because you used non-standard phraseology? Has an air traffic controller ever used non-standard phraseology with you? Tell me a good story.

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11 thoughts on “Audio Lesson #6: Being Dead Wrong on the Aircraft Radio”

  1. Pingback: How to Request a Takeoff Clearance from Tower

  2. My first flight solo with a radio to a near by airport, I did get my face chewed off because I didn’t reply back “clear for the option” which at the time, I had no idea what it meant. They would repeat it back to me and this was my first time with a radio so I didn’t know I had to repeat that back at the time. It was pretty embarrassing. After I told him I was a student, he was a bit more understanding.

    1. Yes. I really like the option to say “Student Pilot” in your first radio transmission. It almost always makes life easier with ATC.


  3. Pingback: Radar Contact Audio Show #17 Closed Traffic

  4. I hope ATC will be patient with you and will provide sufficient information to you if you declare that you are student pilot and you be honest otherwise….

  5. Hi, Jeff. Thank you again for your simulator. A little question. How to repeat transmission on language builder? I did not find the button for repeat. There is saying just one time and if I click correct answer its goes next. But i ‘d like to repeat phrases to remember them. Thank you again.

    1. Isaak,

      There is no repeat transmission for the language builder. This was only a test program, not a finished product. I have not worked on it 3 years.


      1. Hi Jeff. But you will continiou to work on that programm? This is the most important program I thing ! Thank you for your work and enthusiasm !

  6. I’m not seeing now nonstandard phraseology would help here. It seems like the issue was one person talking over the other. I’m also confused what the proposed solution is and how that would solve this. Tower seemed to say clear for departure and the guy seemed to read it back?

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