Some French aviation terms

Novelist Hugh MacLennan referred to the English and French in Canada as Two Solitudes, but that’s not a great working model for aviation. In eastern Canada, we do have to deal with both languages on the radio; I’ve developed an marginal passive understanding of aviation French from a few years of flying out of Ottawa, and I thought it might be worth collecting some of the most common terms I happen to remember — these are important words you may need to understand on the radio, not a complete French-English aviation glossary. Please let me know if I get any wrong — and does anyone know the French word for “FBO“? (It’s “exploitant d’aérodrome privé” according to Nav Canada, but “le FBO” in real life — see comments for more info.)

à destination de
heading for …
l’aérogare (m)
terminal (building)
l’aéroport (m)

l’aire de stationnement (f)
apron (parking)
l’amerrissage (m)
water landing (c.f. “l’aterrissage”)

l’approche (f)
l’approche finale (f)
final (leg); “en approche finale” on final
l’approche interrompue (f)
overshoot/go-around; “en approche interrompue” on the overshoot/going around
l’approche manquée (f)
missed approach
attendre à l’écart
(to) hold short
l’atterrissage (m)
landing (c.f. “l’amerrissage”)
l’atterrissage complet
full stop (landing)
l’avion (m)
le calage altimétrique
altimeter setting
le cap
le circuit
(traffic) circuit/pattern
le contrôle sol
ground control
le côté inactif
inactive/upwind side of the runway (in Canada, pilots usually approach an uncontrolled airport from the upwind side “du côté inactif” and cross overhead the field to join the mid downwind)
le décollage
takeoff; “décoller” to take off
l’étape de base (f)
base (leg); “en étape de base” on base
les installations (f)
airport buildings; more generally, the airport/field (e.g. “cinq milles des installations” five miles from the field)
le mille (marin)
(nautical) mile
le pilote
la piste
runway; “la piste en service” active runway
le posé-décollé touché-décollé
touch-and-go (landing)
remonter (la piste)
backtrack (on the runway)
le seuil (de piste)

(runway) threshold
le tour (de contrôle)
(control) tower
le vent arrière
downwind, tailwind; “en vent arrière” on (the) downwind (leg)
le vent debout
upwind, headwind; “côté vent debout” the upwind side
le vent traversier
crosswind; “en vent traversier” on (the) crosswind (leg)
verticale de
above/over; (e.g. “à vingt-cinq mille pieds verticale de Lachute” over Lachute at 2,500 feet)
le virage
turn (change in direction); e.g. “virage à droit”
la voie de circulation
le vol
flight; “en vol” in the air

There’s a much more complete glossary here (also from English to French), but these are the terms you’re most likely to hear on the radio.

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8 Responses to Some French aviation terms

  1. Blake says:

    I’m fluent in French, but I don’t know any of the aviation terms in French. The Nav Canada bilingual terminology database came in handy.

    You can search it here:

  2. david says:

    Thanks, Blake. That link didn’t work for me, but this one does:

    And according to it, FBO is “exploitant d’aérodrome privé”, though I don’t know that I’ve ever heard the term in use.

  3. Aviatrix says:

    That’s a great list. My favourite French aviation term is amerrissage. It has beautiful symmetry with atterrissage and underscores the stupidity of the English term “water landing.”

  4. david says:

    Thanks, Aviatrix. I hadn’t heard of “amerrissage” — it is nicely symmetrical, as you say, and has the added benefit that it’s easy to make a pun on a bad water landing by changing the second ‘r’ to a ‘d’.

  5. Nick says:

    The quebecois term for an FBO is “le FBO”, or more commonly “le esso”, or “le shell”, etc.

  6. Philippe says:

    Changing the second “r” of amerrissage to a “d” is brilliant! It’s my language and I’m pissed that I didn’t think of it first. Will now be on my list of useful terms when a float student goofs it up.

    For touch and go, “touché-décollé” isn’t used much – we use “posé-décollé” which is literally “set down-take off”.

    Other ones you will hear often is “en vent traversier” for the crosswind leg in the circuit, “du côté inactif” for the inactive side of the circuit, and “les installations” when referring to the field or the airport building, as in “verticale des installations” when above the field, or “5 milles des installations” when reporting the distance.

  7. david says:

    Thanks everyone, and especially Philippe. I’ve made the additions and changes you suggested, and would be grateful for more French/Quebecois aviation terms commonly heard on the radio.

  8. Philippe says:

    And while we’re at it: “upwind side” is “côté vent debout”. Glad to be of help!

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