Talking to ATC: "you, me, where, what"

Talking to ATC makes some pilots nervous — especially if they trained at an uncontrolled airport — but it’s actually pretty simple as long as you take a second to think before you push the PTT button, and compose your message in advance using the simple, Tarzan-like pattern “you, me, where, what”:

  • who you (ATC) are
  • who I am
  • where I am
  • what I want

Just repeat to yourself “you, me, where, what”; “you, me, where, what”; “you, me, where, what”.

Examples

Consider this call for takeoff clearance:

Ottawa tower, Bravo Juliet Oscar short runway two two, ready for takeoff

Let’s break that down to “you, me, where, what”:

[you] Ottawa tower
[me] Bravo Juliet Oscar
[where] holding short runway two two
[what] ready for takeoff

It’s short, complete, and professional-sounding (but try to resist the temptation to deepen your voice and talk in a slow southern drawl). Here’s another one:

Boston Centre, Cherokee Canadian Charlie Foxtrot Bravo Juliet Oscar 5 miles north of the Massena VOR, request flight following

That breaks down to exactly the same pattern:

[you] Boston Center
[me] Cherokee Canadian Charlie Foxtrot Bravo Juliet Oscar (full form for the U.S.)
[where] 5 miles north of the Massena VOR
[what] request flight following

(If the frequency were busy, as it usually is with Boston Center, I’d break that down into two calls: an initial one with just the “you” and “me”, and a second with all the information when they called back and said “Bravo Juliet Oscar, go ahead your request”.)

Uncontrolled calls

Sound familiar? In fact, it’s exactly the same pattern you use in uncontrolled airspace:

Rockcliffe traffic, Cherokee Bravo Juliet Oscar five miles south at two thousand, crossing midfield to join the right downwind two seven

[you] Rockcliffe traffic
[me] Cherokee Bravo Juliet Oscar
[where] five miles south at two thousand
[what] crossing midfield to join the right downwind two seven

For uncontrolled airports, though, it’s often considered good manners to add an extra “you” at the end, because many airports may share the same frequency. A “you, me, where, what, you” pattern looks like this:

Rockcliffe traffic, Cherokee Bravo Juliet Oscar five miles south at two thousand, crossing midfield to join the right downwind two seven, Rockcliffe

Variations

If you’re just checking in with a new ATC unit after a handoff, the what is “checking in”, and you can usually leave that implied:

Toronto Centre, Bravo Juliet Oscar at six thousand

Here’s how it fits the pattern:

[you] Toronto Centre
[me] Bravo Juliet Oscar
[where] at six thousand (feet — to confirm that your encoder is working properly)
[what] (implied: “checking in”)

Alternatively, if an ATC unit already has you in visual or radar contact, you can leave out the where and just say the what:

Moncton Centre, Bravo Juliet Oscar request direct Fredericton VOR

[you] Moncton Centre
[me] Bravo Juliet Oscar
[where] (implied: “where you see me on radar”)
[what] request direct Fredericton VOR

Finally, standard IFR practice after a handoff to a new ATC unit is to add the what (“with you”) before the altitude, changing the order slightly:

Halifax terminal, Bravo Juliet Oscar with you at three thousand

[you] Halifax terminal
[me] Bravo Juliet Oscar
[what] with you
[where] at three thousand [feet]

That’s just because IFR pilots think they’re special.

About these ads

About David Megginson

Scholar, tech guy, Canuck, open-source/data/information zealot, urban pedestrian, language geek, tea drinker, pater familias, red tory, amateur musician, private pilot.
This entry was posted in General and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Talking to ATC: "you, me, where, what"

  1. grant says:

    Good way to lay it out – very KISS.

    For consistency, I’d even suggest that the last IFR “exception” isn’t an exception at all. The /what/ is either implied or can easily be stated in the same order as your other examples. I.e. “Halifax terminal, Bravo Juliet Oscar, at three thousand, checking in.” Or “Halifax terminal, Bravo Juliet Oscar, leaving three thousand for six thousand, (“with you” implied).” or often: “Halifax terminal, Bravo Juliet Oscar, (location understood from radar and previous contact), requesting direct Montreal.”

    Anyway – just to say that it’s a great way to present this often intimidating topic.

  2. Viennatech says:

    Lima-Alpha-Hotel-Sierra, This is Papa-Foxtrot-Lima at the September 6th post. Reading your posting was very informative and helpful for this newb! Request more frequent postings. Over.

  3. randall g says:

    I like to avoid words like “at”, “for” or “with you”, but always give current altitude and target altitude if climbing or descending. For instance, “Vancouver Centre, TUM level 11000″ or “Vancouver Departure, TUM 1800 climbing 3000.” Recently in SFO class B there was “Oakland Centre, CGTUM 8500 descending pilot’s discretion” – I was previously cleared into class B with descent at pilot’s discretion on the way to Napa from Santa Monica.

  4. Pingback: Best of the Web: Learning to fly | Plastic Pilot

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s