Pilot Read Back and ATC Hear Back

Hear Back No Evil. *

This is how pilot read back and ATC hear back is supposed to work:

a. When issuing clearances or instructions ensure acknowledgment by the pilot.
Pilots may acknowledge clearances, instructions, or other information by using “Wilco,” “Roger,” “Affirmative,” or other words or remarks.
AIM, Para 4-2-3, Contact Procedures.
b. If altitude, heading, or other items are read back by the pilot, ensure the read back is correct. If incorrect or incomplete, make corrections as appropriate.
(J.O. 7110.65S, the Air Traffic Controller Manual)

I wished it always worked as advertised.

In many other countries, air traffic controllers will always reply to your read back. In Canada for example, if you read back the clearance correctly, you will hear: “That’s correct.” Example:

Controller: “Cessna Bravo Tango Mike, descend and maintain four thousand.”
Pilot: “Descending to four thousand, Cessna Bravo Tango Mike.”
Controller: “That’s correct.”

In the United States, air traffic controllers will only respond if you get the clearance wrong:

Controller: “Piper Three Five X-ray, turn right heading 040, descend and maintain 3000.”
Pilot: “Right heading 030, descending to 4000, Three Five X-ray.”
Controller: “Negative! Piper Three Five X-ray, turn right heading 040, descend and maintain 3000.”

If you get the clearance right the first time, you will hear nothing further from the controller. In other words, silence is golden. At least that’s the theory.

It turns out, silence can be deadly, or at least dead wrong. I’ll explain why next time.

*No. I’m not saying controllers or pilots are akin to stuffed monkeys. This is the only photo I could find that represented “Hear no evil.” Jeff


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