Reading Back Air Traffic Control Clearances

“Cessna 3829 Hotel, Philadelphia Approach, radar contact 7 miles south of the Brandywine Airport."

Philadephia Approach says: “Cessna 3829 Hotel, Philadelphia Approach, radar contact 7 miles south of the Brandywine Airport. Maintain VFR clear of the Class Bravo airspace, advise of any altitude changes, and say your destination.”

Cessna 29 Hotel says: “Cessna 29 Hotel copies radar contact 7 miles south of Brandywine. Will maintain VFR clear of Class Bravo airspace. Will call you with any altitude changes. Destination Cecil County Airport, Maryland.”

>>You Make the Call

Was the radio call from the pilot of Cessna 29 Hotel correct, incorrect, or somewhere in between?

Read what the Airman’s Information Manual has to say about reading back ATC clearances, and see if your answer changes. (I added the underline.)

4−4−7. Pilot Responsibility upon Clearance Issuance

b.  ATC Clearance/Instruction Readback.
Pilots of airborne aircraft should read back those parts of ATC clearances and instructions containing altitude assignments or vectors as a means of mutual verification. 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.

“Climbing to Flight Level three three zero, United Twelve” or “November Five Charlie Tango, roger, cleared to land.”

2. Read back altitudes, altitude restrictions, and vectors in the same sequence as they are given in the clearance or instruction.
3. Altitudes contained in charted procedures, such as DPs, instrument approaches, etc., should not be read back unless they are specifically stated by the controller.

According to the Airman’s Information Manual, all Cessna 29 Hotel had to say to Philly Approach was, “Cessna 29 Hotel’s destination is Cecil County Airport, Maryland.”

Did the Pilot Blow It?

Not necessarily. You are never limited to only reading back altitudes and vectors. In fact, it’s kind of ironic that immediately following the AIM’s paragraph on reading back altitudes and vectors, one of the examples given is: “November Five Charlie Tango, roger, cleared to land.” The example has nothing to do with reading back “the numbers.” Before you go “Blah, blah, blah,” on the radio, consider this from the Airman’s Information Manual:

Section 2. Radio Communications Phraseology and Techniques

4−2−1. General

b. Brevity is important, and contacts should be kept as brief as possible, but controllers must know what you want to do before they can properly carry out their control duties. And you, the pilot, must know exactly what the controller wants you to do. Since concise phraseology may not always be adequate, use whatever words are necessary to get your message across.

In other words, say what you need to say to establish a clear understanding, and keep your radio transmissions brief. By all means repeat back altitudes, headings and anything else you want the air traffic controller to verify. The air traffic controller will listen to your reply and should correct anything you repeat incorrectly.

Choke the Parrot

However, don’t default to repeating everything just because you are not sure what should be read back. Parroting everything a controller says to you wastes precious radio air time, and is, (how should I put this?) less than professional.

Next time, we’ll go a little deeper into read backs. We’ll examine why controllers expect pilots to read back certain clearances that are not required to be read back by the F.A.R.s, and not mentioned in the Airman’s Information Manual.

Photo courtesy of All call signs used in this article, with the exception of Philadelphia Approach, are fictitious. All conversations in this article article are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons or aircraft is purely coincidental.


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2 thoughts on “Reading Back Air Traffic Control Clearances”

  1. Lynbert A. Laguda II

    this is a big help for me thank u very much jeff, actually i am getting ready for my ELP “english language proficiency” exam soon this mid of april 2012 and honestly i still have some troubles on how or what to readback correctly using IFR. . I was hoping sir if I may say this or requesting it, is there anyway you can teach me the methods and techniques to how to easily catchup the atc and readback the right words or numbers? By the way I’m from the Philippines and if may i open up this fact that our ELP examiners just freshly got their atc licences. So no room for errors for them and because their new jeff they are so hot to make the exam very hard, onething intentionally speaking fast to make it more harder to what are goin to be readback cause honestly i am a ‘virgin’ in IFR pattern,routes so expected, I will have a hard time catching up. . If i can beg you sir please help me conquer this exam with your methods


    P.s. I’ve flown 26h55min all VFR pattern and routes.. So im having nightmares for this upcoming exam this april yr. 2012

    1. Lynbert,

      I will be contact you by email and we will discuss the issues that are causing problems for you.


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