Communicating with Air Traffic Control


Proper Terminology and Read-Back Procedures Increases Safety and Efficiency

Several days ago a new student pilot posed the question: "Why does is the communications with ATC so structured, and is it necessary that we follow that structure?  Using proper terminology and read-back procedures increases safety and keeps everyone in the know as to your aircraft’s intentions and position.

The structure of ATC communications as we know it today is the result of development and research prompted by various accidents caused by confusion resulting from informal communications.  These informal communications resulted in misunderstandings between aircraft and controllers and other aircraft.

One such accident that resulted in the development of today’s ATC/aircraft communication structure occurred in Tenerife Spain in 1977.  On the 27th of March, 1977, two Boeing 747s collided on the runway on the island of Tenerife Spain.  One aircraft was engaged in a back-taxi, the second was on take-off roll.  The collision resulted in the largest aviation disaster ever excluding the acts of terrorism committed on September 11th, 2001.

I have written a narrative analysis of this accident and provided a link below.  I have also provided a link to the accident report.

So to answer my student’s question – the formal communication structure is for safety, and yes it is required.

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