We’d Be Thrilled If You Simply Used Your Call Sign!

I’ve spent a lot of time at this website talking to you about how to format your call sign when transmitting on the radio. While focusing on tiny details, I failed to recognize the bigger problem. Many pilots do not even use their call sign when talking to ATC. Time to slay that dragon.


There you are, whizzing around an uncontrolled airport pattern, surrounded by who-knows-what in other aircraft. If it’s your unlucky day, someone is going to try and swap paint with you on the downwind leg. What do you do and what do you say on the common traffic advisory frequency to unravel a developing furball? I mean besides, “Oh ____, this is gonna hurt!” I have the answer in this week’s show.

All that, plus Your Question of the Week.

Show Notes:

Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) 4−2−1. General

b. The single, most important thought in pilot- controller communications is understanding. It is essential, therefore, that pilots acknowledge each radio communication with ATC by using the appropriate aircraft call sign.

CFR § 91.123 Compliance with ATC clearances and instructions.
(a) When an ATC clearance has been obtained, no pilot in command may deviate from that clearance unless an amended clearance is obtained, an emergency exists, or the deviation is in response to a traffic alert and collision avoidance system resolution advisory. However, except in Class A airspace, a pilot may cancel an IFR flight plan if the operation is being conducted in VFR weather conditions. When a pilot is uncertain of an ATC clearance, that pilot shall immediately request clarification from ATC.

(b) Except in an emergency, no person may operate an aircraft contrary to an ATC instruction in an area in which air traffic control is exercised.

(c) Each pilot in command who, in an emergency, or in response to a traffic alert and collision avoidance system resolution advisory, deviates from an ATC clearance or instruction shall notify ATC of that deviation as soon as possible.

(d) Each pilot in command who (though not deviating from a rule of this subpart) is given priority by ATC in an emergency, shall submit a detailed report of that emergency within 48 hours to the manager of that ATC facility, if requested by ATC.

(e) Unless otherwise authorized by ATC, no person operating an aircraft may operate that aircraft according to any clearance or instruction that has been issued to the pilot of another aircraft for radar air traffic control purposes.

AIM 4−1−9. Traffic Advisory Practices at Airports Without Operating Control Towers

g. Self-Announce Position and/or Intentions

1. General. Self-announce is a procedure whereby pilots broadcast their position or intended flight activity or ground operation on the designated CTAF.

h. UNICOM Communications Procedures

(d) Report approximately 10 miles from the airport, reporting altitude, and state your aircraft type, aircraft identification, location relative to the airport, state whether landing or overflight, and request wind information and runway in use.

(e) Report on downwind, base, and final approach.

(f) Report leaving the runway.

Your Question of the Week

You are 20 miles from an uncontrolled airport, inbound for landing. You dial up the ASOS frequency for the airport and learn the surface winds are 340 at 10 knots. The airport has 1 north-south runway with a left-hand traffic pattern, so you are obviously going to land on Runway 35.

Next, you tune the airport’s Unicom frequency and request an airport advisory. There is no answer. You report your position at 10 miles from the airport, “Town and Country Traffic, Cessna 9130 Delta, 10 miles southwest, inbound for landing.” There’s no response to this. The radio is completely silent and you are certain you have the correct frequency tuned.

Given this situation, what do you do next? When you think you know the answer to that question, go to ATCcommunication.com/answers.


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

19 thoughts on “We’d Be Thrilled If You Simply Used Your Call Sign!”

  1. Greg Rickershauser

    Question Jeff. If I do hear a pilot stating, “Traffic in the area, please advise”, what should I do? I assume I should still answer him, even though I have been announcing my positions?

    1. Greg,

      Of course this is only my opinion. I would not respond to that pilot’s transmission. I would continue reporting my position at each mandatory point in the pattern.

      Call me conservative–or maybe something more colorful–but I’m going to follow the AIM. The AIM says that other pilot is making a transmission that is “not a recognized Self−Announce Position and/or Intention phrase and should not be used under any condition.” That’s a very clear statement from the FAA. I’m going to comply with the FAA’s best practice. That pilot will get what he needs through normal position reporting procedures.


  2. I’ve been poking at the stack for 20 minutes now and I still can’t find frq 91.123! But here’s a snippet of my typical morning comms: (Wife) “Is that you dear?” (Me) “Good morning babe, I’m gonna pour a cup and head downstairs — Yankee Charlie Whiskey.” Just kidding, but it came darned close for a while there.

    Another great show Jeff.

    1. Northern Light,

      I’m struggling with your train of thought here. 91.123 on the stack? is Yankee Charley Whiskey your aircraft’s call sign? I must need more coffee too. In any case, I’m glad you enjoyed the latest Radar Contact a Show.

      1. Sorry Jeff, just pulling yer chain a bit. Here is a caffeine-free clue to my madness: “CFR § 91.123 Compliance with ATC clearances and instructions.” And no, I made up the callsign, but there is a clue buried there too. lol Yes, I was a terribly disruptive influence in class, but I will deny everything in court.

        Happy vapor-trails Skipper.

  3. Hello Jeff, I have a related question. A CFI in San Diego posted a Youtube instructional video on non-towered airport operations. Instead of giving his call sign, he advocates giving the color and type of aircraft. For example, he announces as “Green Cub” rather than “Piper N9130E.” His reasoning is that it makes him more identifiable to other pilots than his call sign. This conflicts with the AIM, but he does have a point. What are your thoughts?

    1. Dale,

      That technique makes a lot of sense to me. Use of alphanumeric call signs are better suited to working with ATC.

      I do get nervous though when pilots circumvent the FAA’s guidance and substitute a procedure with a technique. I wonder what the San Diego Flight Standards District Office would think of this.


      1. Not only does it NOT make sense and is against FAA radio procedures, it also wreaks havoc on situational awareness, impedes communications and also makes you sound like you are completely untrained in pattern operations. If you hear “Blue and White Cessna 4 miles east landing runway 26” and then “Blue and White Cessna final 26” is that one airplane or two? I witnessed the confusion this caused to an aircraft entering base. It was two aircraft. I doubt, except for Oshkosh where this technique originated, has adding the color removed more confusion that it created. Use your call-signs folks.

        1. Jeff M,

          If I understand you correctly, you had a first-hand experience in an airport pattern where 2 pilots identified themselves by aircraft color and make only. This caused a third pilot on base leg to do or say something that demonstrated he thought there was only one aircraft on final. If I read this correctly, then your point is more than a personal opinion. You have actual evidence to show it’s a lousy technique.

          The whole point of using complete and unique call signs, as described in the AIM, is to avoid the potential for confusion.

          I appreciate your passion for this topic. I share it. That said, I removed the first sentence of your comment for its lack of civility.



          1. Yes I can see why you stick to the AIM, not a bad thing to do. However I was taught that technique of only identifying your type and maybe the color at non-towered airports because of people who do listen with radios on the ground who are out there to report anybody as a low flying aircraft. By not saying your numbers those people cannot report you.

          2. Moe,

            I believe there’s some merit in most techniques. However, and I rarely say this, that is a bad justification for a lousy technique. Here’s why.

            When operating in an uncontrolled airport pattern at the airport’s published traffic pattern altitude, you are 100% legal and within your rights. People who complain don’t have a leg to stand on.

            Sticking to the AIM is not only a good thing to do, it will keep you safe, and in line with the FAA’s expectations of how you should operate your aircraft.

            If you’d care to put me in touch with the person who taught you to use aircraft and color in lieu of your call sign, I’d be happy to discuss the issue further with that individual.


          3. Also wouldn’t the standard phraseology for a formation flight would be “(airport) traffic Blue and White Cessnas flight of two right downwind (airport)”

          4. The correct phrase would be “Longview Traffic, Cessna 9738 Zulu, flight of two, right downwind, Longview.” When flying in formation, both aircraft are accounted for by the call sign of the lead aircraft. When the formation splits up, each pilot in the formation resumes using his individual call sign.

            If you care to include lead’s aircraft color, though I don’t think it’s necessary, you may add it after stating your FAA-mandated call sign.


  4. I got asked something very similar as part of my initial radio license (in the UK, we need a separate Flight Radiotelephony Operator’s Licence). I gave a similar answer and was told that “no, check your bloody volume’s turned up first” 🙂

    1. Neil,

      I suppose, in this case, double-checking that your radio is functioning is a good idea. Since this exercise was about how an empty traffic pattern is a common occurrence, I should have mentioned in the setup that the radio was working perfectly earlier in the flight. Thank you for pointing that out.


  5. Pingback: Cleared for the Visual Approach, Or Not

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

On Key

Related Posts

Learning Radio Skills from Pilots

There is a misconception among new pilots that listening to other pilots speak on the radio is a good way to learn radio phrasing. My opinion is, maybe, but probably not. Listen to the audio in this 1:10 video. These are all presumably experienced pilots communicating with Peachtree Tower at Dekalb-Peachtree Airport (KPDK). Ear-opening, yes?

New Day, New Jet

"New day, new jet." That is an Air Force Instructor Pilot's standard statement that means the current training scenario is over, and a new one has begun. It is a line of demarcation that reminds student pilots it is time to move on to the next challenging scenario. It's a new day here at ATCcommunication.com,

Flying into Class B for the First Time

If you are anticipating flying into Class B airspace for the first time, not to worry. The procedures ATC uses inside of Class B are nearly identical to those used in other classes of airspace. The subtle variations in procedure will most likely be unnoticeable to you. What may jump out at you is the

Pilot’s Discretion Descents

As you approach your destination, ATC will clear you to begin a descent from your enroute altitude to some lower altitude. Often descent clearances will come in a series of lower altitudes. This series of step-down clearances is issued to allow you to descend without conflicting with other traffic at lower altitudes. Occasionally, and in

I Hate Holding

No one likes to have their forward progress stopped. You know what I mean. When you are stuck in a traffic jam on the road, it’s very aggravating. Waiting at a long red stoplight when you need to be somewhere can raise your blood pressure. Similarly, when ATC says, “Expect holding at [a navigation fix],”

Scroll to Top