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A guide to aviation phraseology and why it’s important

Proper radio communication is an essential part of pilot training in the Philippines and other countries. It sets a standard for how pilots pass messages and relay information to ground personnel and other pilots. And like many specialized forms of communication, aviation communication has its own sets of terms and unique phraseology.

If you’re just starting your pilot career, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with domestic and global aviation phraseology. It will help you prepare once you have completed your training and acquired the license to fly internationally. For more information, here’s a guide to aviation phraseology and why it’s important.

Aviation phraseology ensures effective and quick communication

Generally, aviation phraseology is a set of pre-established phrases in the aviation industry. They are designed to be specific and brief so pilots and Air Traffic Control (ATC) can communicate quickly and effectively with each other. It eliminates seemingly long and complex transmission of messages and makes them concise. The phraseology also supports the read-back/hear-back process, which is a procedure in which the receiving station repeats a received message or part of it back to the transmitting station to ensure the message is correct.

Without standard phraseology, communication can become ambiguous, which may lead to some misunderstandings. This can make it a contributing factor in many different aircraft accidents and incidents.

Example of standard phraseology

There are many different phraseologies used in global aviation communication, such as the Standard Instrument Departure Routes (SIDs) and Standard Arrival Routes (STARs). The former refers to how air traffic services identify which aircraft should proceed from the take-off phase to the en-route stage. On the other hand, STAR describes the approaching procedure when an aircraft should proceed from the en-route phase to take the initial approach.

Using the dedicated SID/STAR phraseologies lets ATC and aircrew communicate and understand the detailed clearance information. With these sets of phraseology, the ATC can ensure seamless air traffic flow, reducing the risk of related accidents. 

What language is used in aviation communication?

The official international language of aviation is English, which is designated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). That said, it is also the official language used for standard aviation phraseology. The only exception to this is in countries where English isn’t the primary language. 

For non-native English-speaking countries, their native language can be used in aviation communication. However, they must always have English-speaking controllers available at all ground stations, especially those that use international air services to communicate with foreign pilots flying in. 

Authorities that regulate proper aviation phraseology and radio procedures

Every country involved in aviation has its own national aviation authority that oversees, regulates, and coordinates airports, airspace, and air travel operations. In the Philippines, there is the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) while the United States has the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

Since every country has different aviation authorities, aviation standards, radio procedures, and phraseology in one country may be different from another, which can be a problem for pilots flying in global destinations.

As a solution, ICAO was established in 1944, which is a specialized United Nations agency responsible for the global consensus on international civil aviation standards and recommended practices. ICAO liaises between member states and ensures there’s continuity and uniformity wherever possible, including the implementation of international standards of phraseology. The aviation agencies of each country collaborate with each other and participate in ICAO’s global policy and procedure creation. 

As a way to promote ICAO provisions, national aviation authorities include these international practices in their radiotelephony manuals. Sometimes, they may also modify the manuals to suit local conditions.

Do you need to know the aviation phraseologies of different countries?

As a pilot, it is not enough to learn the aviation phraseology of your home country. You must also be familiar with the various communication standards and procedures of every country you’ll be flying into. To help pilots across the globe, ICAO countries are required to publish an Aeronautical Information (AIP) or Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) that contains all their aviation policies and communication standards.

Having the AIM/AIP of the countries you frequently fly into is a good idea. Many countries have theirs in digital versions, which can be downloaded from their aviation authority’s official website. For example, if you’re traveling to a European Union member country, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s EGAST Radiotelephony Guide for VFR Pilots will be your reference while traveling anywhere in the United Kingdom.

Fortunately, many countries are adopting the ICAO phraseology. It is becoming easier for pilots to communicate when they travel from one country to another. But just to be certain, it’s best to do your research about your destination country’s aviation communication standards.

Unified and standard phraseology is important in global aviation communication. It offers a straightforward way to relay information to aircrew and ATC around the world. As an aspiring pilot, it’s best to start learning domestic and international aviation phraseology procedures, and communications standards simultaneously. Once you are high up in the air, you can efficiently communicate with any ATC around the world with the help of aviation phraseology.