Listening to ATC Clearances is Good for You

Ready to copy clearance.

No doubt, passively listening to ATC clearances is good head work. The more you listen, the more it makes sense. There are plenty of websites wired into air traffic control communications, including ATC clearance frequencies.

You’ve heard that old adage: “What I hear, I generally forget. What I see, I may remember. What I do, stays with me.” There is no substitute for hands-on practice with ATC clearances.

To really exercise your memory muscles, and learn the cadence and pattern of ATC clearances, it’s best to:

  1. Listen to a clearance.
  2. Write it down.
  3. Most importantly, get feedback on whether you got it right.

It’s the feedback, or in ATC terms, “hearback,” where real learning takes place. I’m  working on a module for the ATC Radio Simulator that gives you hearback / feedback on whether you copied the clearance correctly.

One last note about learning to copy ATC clearances. Take comfort in knowing even old pros don’t always get it right. I wrote about that in a previous article. Just last week, I muffed copying a route clearance before departing Raleigh-Durham (RDU) International. The controller’s response was surprising. I’ll tell you about that next time.

In the meantime, tell me what trips you up when trying to copy clearances. Does the controller talk too fast for you to write? Do you not have a system of shorthand for writing the clearance quickly?


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