How to Read Back ATC Instructions in Spite of AIM Guidance

Turn right heading 110. Maintain 120 knots.
Here’s a paragraph from the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) talking about reading back ATC instructions: “The readback of the “numbers” serves as a double check between pilots and controllers and reduces the kinds of communications errors that occur when a number is either “misheard” or is incorrect.” (AIM 4-4-7b.) It’s a good and accurate statement, but it leaves something out.

What’s missing from the sentence in the AIM?

Units, expressed as a noun or verb, such as “Heading,” or “Knots.” Here’s an example that illustrates the problem.

ATC: “Cessna 57 Mike, traffic you’re following is twenty knots slower. Turn right heading one one zero.”

Pilot: “Cessna 57 Mike, one one zero.”

My question to you is this:

Is the pilot of Cessna 57 Mike turning to a heading of 110 degrees, or is he slowing to 110 knots to stay behind the preceding aircraft? He is following the AIM’s guidance to repeat the numbers. You might say common sense applies here, and the pilot is turning to 110.

Let’s blur the line a little more.

ATC: “Piper 38 Uniform, turn right heading one one zero to intercept final. You’re cleared for the visual approach, Runway One Four. Maintain one two zero knots until a five mile final.”

Pilot: “Piper 38 Uniform, one one zero, one two zero. Cleared the visual to One Four ”

You might say, “C’mon! No one talks like that on the radio.” I’m here to tell you, I hear read backs on the radio like this all the time.

The Solution

The solution is simple. Read back numbers and their associated units. Controllers are always required to say the numbers and a unit. (J.O. 7110.65T, Chapter 2-4-17.) You should too.

If the controller says “Heading one one zero,” read back “Heading,” plus the numbers.

If the controller says, “Maintain one two zero knots,” read back the numbers, plus “knots.”

The AIM only says “readback of the numbers.” It never says read back the number and the associated units or noun. There are some examples of pilot radio transmission in the AIM that include numbers and units, but the concept is never explained. Flyer beware.

Up Next

A rule breaker: You will never hear a controller say “Maintain altitude 3,000.” What should they say, and how should you respond? That’s coming up.

Share:

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn

3 thoughts on “How to Read Back ATC Instructions in Spite of AIM Guidance”

  1. One other clue to help distinguish a heading clearance from the others is a reason for a vector must be included
    7110.65T 5-6-2. METHODS
    b. When initiating a vector, advise the pilot of the purpose.

    PHRASEOLOGY:
    VECTOR TO (fix or airway).
    VECTOR TO INTERCEPT (name of NAVAID) (specified) RADIAL.
    VECTOR FOR SPACING.
    VECTOR TO FINAL APPROACH COURSE,
    or if the pilot does not have knowledge of the type of approach,
    VECTOR TO (approach name) FINAL APPROACH COURSE

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

On Key

Related Posts

New Day, New Jet

"New day, new jet." That is an Air Force Instructor Pilot's standard statement that means the current training scenario is over, and a new one has begun. It is a line of demarcation that reminds student pilots it is time to move on to the next challenging scenario. It's a new day here at ATCcommunication.com,

Flying into Class B for the First Time

If you are anticipating flying into Class B airspace for the first time, not to worry. The procedures ATC uses inside of Class B are nearly identical to those used in other classes of airspace. The subtle variations in procedure will most likely be unnoticeable to you. What may jump out at you is the

Pilot’s Discretion Descents

As you approach your destination, ATC will clear you to begin a descent from your enroute altitude to some lower altitude. Often descent clearances will come in a series of lower altitudes. This series of step-down clearances is issued to allow you to descend without conflicting with other traffic at lower altitudes. Occasionally, and in

I Hate Holding

No one likes to have their forward progress stopped. You know what I mean. When you are stuck in a traffic jam on the road, it’s very aggravating. Waiting at a long red stoplight when you need to be somewhere can raise your blood pressure. Similarly, when ATC says, “Expect holding at [a navigation fix],”

Coping with Busy Airspace

The time between ATC’s radio transmissions differs depending on the amount of traffic in a controller’s airspace. The more traffic in a section of airspace, the less time between ATC transmissions. Take comfort in the fact that no matter how busy the radio seems, the words and phrases ATC uses remain exactly the same words

Scroll to Top