Professional Pilots Are Not Always Professional

Professionalism is something to strive for, but even the pros don't always achieve it.

This is for you if you are intimidated by the thought of talking to ATC. Perhaps you feel you might not measure up to the pros—that you might make a fool of yourself on the radio. I got news for you. Professional pilots—airline pilots and corporate pilots, for example—are not always perfect on the radio. Everyone makes mistakes.

Botched Radio Calls

Here is a sampling of radio calls I heard during a recent three-day trip I flew with Delta. In each example, I substituted the airline name in a call sign, or altered the call sign to protect identities. To be clear, these are not actual call signs, and these are not me, though I have made my share of mistakes on the radio.

In Atlanta

ATL Tower: “Airline 238, Atlanta Tower, turn left on Romeo, right on Papa, and hold short of 27R on Papa.”

Airliner: “Airline 238, left Romeo and hold short on Papa.”

ATL Tower: “Airline 238, that’s left Romeo and hold short of 27R on Papa.”

Airliner: “Airline 238.”

ATL Tower: “Airline 238, you know the rules. I need you to acknowledge holding short of 27R with your call sign.”

Airliner: “Airline 238, hold short of 27R on Papa.”

If you’re counting, that’s 6 transmissions to do what should have been done in 2.

In Boston

Airliner: “Boston Ground, Airline 2476, ready to push from Gate B-18.”

BOS Ground: “Airline 2476, Boston Ground, SCREEEEE . . .”

Unknown: “ . . . joining November, going to Gate A-19.”

Unknown: “Blocked!”

BOS Ground: “Airline 2476, Boston Ground, cleared to, SCREEEEE . . .”

Unknown: “. . . ready to taxi.”

Unknown: “Blocked!”

BOS Ground: “Everyone on this frequency stand by!! Don’t call me. I’ll call you. Airline 2476, you’re cleared to push at B-18. Call when ready to taxi.”

When it gets busy, trying to get on the radio becomes a food fight. Then there are the “pros” who flip to the next frequency and start talking without listening first to see if all other conversations have ended.

In New York

Here’s plain old lack of attention to detail at New York’s LaGuardia Airport:

LGA Ground: “Airliner 1842, traffic 3 out for Runway 4. Without delay, cross Runway 4 at Echo, turn right on Double Bravo and stay with me for your [departure] sequence.”

Airliner: “Cross Runway 4, right Double Bravo, Airliner 1842.”

Several minutes later.

LGA Ground: “Airliner 1842, move up and hold short of Golf. You’re number 3 behind the 737 to your right. Monitor Tower, 118.3”

No answer.

LGA Ground: “Airliner 1842, up to and hold short of Golf. Follow the 737 crossing your nose. Monitor Tower, 118.3.”

No answer.

LGA Ground: “Airliner 1842, LaGuardia Ground.”


LGA Ground “Airliner 1842, LaGuardia Ground?”


Airliner: “Hey Ground, Airliner 1842, Tower sent us back to you.”

LGA Ground: “Airliner 1842, did you have your sequence before you switched [to Tower]?”

Airliner, after a short pause: “Negative, Airliner 1842.”

LGA Ground: “Airliner 1842, your instructions were to stay with me for your sequence. . .” and so on.

On Arrival into San Diego

7AM: “Socal Approach, Aircraft 227 Alpha Mike, out of two zero zero for 11,000 with information Kilo.”

Socal: “Aircraft 227 Alpha Mike, Socal Approach, fly heading 230, descend and maintain 9,000, expect the Localizer Runway 27. Verify you have Kilo.”

Unknown: “Heading 230, descending to 9,000, and we have Kilo.”

Socal: “Uh, was that Aircraft 7 Alpha Mike that answered?”

7AM: “No, it sounded like someone else grabbed our clearance, 7 Alpha Mike.”

Socal: “Aircraft 3 Mike Mike, was that you? I need you to maintain 12,000 and maintain your present heading for traffic.”

3MM: “Negative. That wasn’t 3 Mike Mike. We’re level 12,000, heading 280, Aircraft 3 Mike Mike.”

No One’s Perfect

The lesson today is, no one’s perfect. We are all human. Don’t be afraid you won’t measure up to the pros on the radio. Even the pros make mistakes. I’m not saying you shouldn’t strive to get it right on the radio. Of course you should. You will get better with experience, and experience comes from practice.

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