Audio Lesson #1: Why ATC Never Says “8,000 Feet of Altitude”

In this first audio lesson, we'll talk about some basic air traffic control phrases; and why ATC uses those specific phrases. Hint: It has something to do with your instrument panel.

Show Notes:

Get a photo or illustration of an aircraft instrument panel before listening to this podcast. I’m going to reference it.

In this episode, you’ll hear:

  1. Why ATC always says “Knots” when directing you to maintain airspeed.
  2. Why ATC always says “Heading” when directing you to turn.
  3. Why ATC never says “Altitude” or “Feet” when telling you to climb, descend, or stay level.
  4. How to tell the difference between an ATC directive to maintain an altitude versus maintain a vertical speed.
  5. Plus, more information on the development of the Aircraft Radio Simulator.

(Wouldn’t you know it? In the very first podcast, I flub a statement. At 2 minutes, 13 seconds, you’ll hear “airspeed indicator,” when I should have said “altimeter.”)

If you like the podcast format, or if you prefer written articles, let me know in the comment section below.

As always, if you have questions or disagreements about anything, let me know in the comments section.

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28 thoughts on “Audio Lesson #1: Why ATC Never Says “8,000 Feet of Altitude””

  1. I like hearing someone else speak, rather than me reading communications to myself. It imprints the idea very clearly in my mind. Continue the podcasts, and go ahead and insert actual ATC recordings as needed in the future.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Tom. I enjoyed doing the podcast. Let’s plan on more in the coming weeks. I will add some actual examples of ATC comm in the future.



  3. I’m an air traffic controller at an ARTCC and interested in your website. The pod cast is a great format and I have a few suggestions please feel free to email me.

    1. Hey MT. It’s great to have an enroute air traffic controller from on board! I sent you an email and I can’t wait to hear your suggestions.


    1. Thanks David. I’ve got a new one in the works that should surprise a few people. It will be live no later than March 29.


  4. Hi Jeff,

    Congratulations about your important job.
    I’m starting in your group and I’d like to tell you that it would be better if we could use your Audio Lessons with Podcast and reading text to assure complete understanding and clarify doubts.
    Mainly to Pilots like me that flying around the world using English as Second Language.
    I would appreciate so much if you release Audio Lessons with writing TEXT.
    God Bless you. Your extra dedication will be important to SAFETY.

    Ricardo – Brazil

    1. Ricardo:

      That’s a great idea. I thought the show notes I include with each audio show would help, but you are right, a complete text for each audio show would be better. I’ll work on that. Thank you for your idea!

      Also, you reminded me that many of the pilots who have signed up for the Insider’s access to the simulator are people who speak English as a second language. It’s time I talked about that in an audio show.


  5. Congratulations Jeff you have chosen a very nice job, an I´d like to use your radio control panel simulator I think it would be great I´d like some other lessons too. those you have are very interesting , I wish I where in contact with you.

    1. Hola Raymundo:

      Thank you for saying hello. Use the form that shows at the bottom of your web browser to sign up for the radio simulator. There will be many lessons with the simulator when it is finished.

      You can contact me any time at

  6. Greatings Jeff,

    I have been living in the U.S for one year, during the first 6 months I only stydied english and now I am trying to get American licenses by FAA, including in two weeks I will have my first checkride (private pilot). I am a Brazilian commercial pilot, IFR and Multi Engine rated, however I decided to start from the begin here because I guess that I will be more confidently if I get a good base in communication and understand very well the airspace.
    Note: My recommendation is that you try to produce audios with entire flights and all their radio communication with ATC, if possible passing through different classes of airspace, also you should offer pdf’s with the texts of these flights, It would be really really very helpful, It doesn’t anywhere.

    Congratulations for your important job!!!

    My best wishes

    Onofre Mello.

    1. Thank you Onofre for your comments. I am working on entire conversations with ATC through different classes of airspace. I plan to have something available for you very soon. Call or write to me any time. I look forward to hearing more from you.


    1. Thank you Azharul. I plan to keep doing the podcasts as much as possible. Sometimes it works better to write a short article, but I hear what you are saying about the podcasts. They are fun to do also!



  7. Jeff,

    I started listening to your aidio lessons and I’m delighted with your instruction. the podcast is great and the written notes also help me a lot. I’m a visual learner.
    I wonder, do you have or plan to have an iPhone app to be able to listen to on the go?
    Thank you so much! I really enjoy learning this way.

    1. Hey Joseph:

      Thank you for your kind words. I hadn’t thought about an iPhone app. It’s a good idea. Right now, you can download each podcast and import it into iTunes. It will then be available to your iPhone.

      There is a download link at each post with a podcast. The download link is right below the podcast player for each post.

      An iPhone app, huh? Know anyone who could build that for me? If nothing else, I should probably start an iTune podcast channel, which would make each podcast directly available to your iPhone.


  8. Thank you Jeff!
    I´m starting doing my ATC comms in english down here in Chile.
    Your lessons have been very usefull for me, please keep doing it.
    I really appreciate it.
    Best regards,


    1. You are welcome Ruy! I’m working hard to keep developing new material, and the Aircraft Radio Simulator.



  9. Thanks for your work Jeff!

    I’m an ATC applicant in NATS, UK and those podcasts are really helpful!



    1. Hello Jessel,

      I’m glad the podcasts are helpful. I hope your future in ATC is great! Stay in touch.


  10. Fernando Mendoza

    Hi Jeff I follow your website from Bogotá Colombia. I am a 737 pilot and I really appreciate your job and concerns about the use of standard phraseology.

    Answering your question, I prefer the podcast format (I love reading your articles also), but as a not native English speaker listening your podcast, helps me a lot to tune my ear.

    My best,


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