15 tips to help pilots sound like a pro on the radio.

Sounding competent when using the radio is important. Air Traffic Controllers and other pilots listening to you will make a judgement on how good of a pilot you are based on how you sound on the radio. You may have handling skills on par with Bob Hoover, but if you don't sound the part on the radio, ATC will judge you and may be less likely to give you that zone transit.  It may not be fair, but it is true!

Student pilots in particular often have a lot of anxiety about using the radio and sounding professional. What if they say something that I don't understand? What if I can't hear them properly or they speak too fast? What if I don't know what to say? Sounds familiar? Read our 15 tips to mastering the radio.

1. Before you speak on a new frequency, wait 5-10 seconds to make sure you are not interrupting a conversation.

It can be particularly annoying for controllers when a pilot tunes in to a new frequency and immediately speaks, whilst he/she could be trying to communicate with an aircraft that requires urgent help or is in the final stages of landing and requires a clearance.

2. Think before you speak.

Don't press the PTT (push to talk) and then try and work out what you are saying. You will dither and have long silences which are not good, especially on a busy frequency.

3. Keep it brief and avoid hesitations.

Umm...erm...hmm doesn't sound very professional. Know what you are going to say before you say it and keep unnecessary hesitations to a minimum.

4. If you don't get a reply, wait at least 15-20 seconds before trying again.

The controller probably did hear you but they are either on the land line or dealing with something else. They will get back to you as soon as they can. Of course there is a chance that they did not hear you, so it is ok to call them again providing you have gave them plenty of time to reply. A sure way to annoy a controller is to call them every five seconds.

5. Press the PTT button before you speak, and hold it down until you have finished speaking.

It may seem obvious, but I hear lots of pilots and student pilots who begin speaking before they have pressed the button, or release the button before they have finished. This results in a clipped transmission which the controller will have to clarify.

6. Do not let Air Traffic Controllers stress you out. 

A good Air Traffic Controller will remain calm even during high workload or emergency situations. Though that is not always the case.

Try to remain calm if a controller is angry at you or is talking in a stressful manner. You will find that they will start to match your behaviour and calm down themselves. In addition, it will help you remain calm and fly the aircraft which is your first priority.

7. Aviate, navigate then communicate.

Remember your list of priorities when flying an aeroplane. Do not prioritise the radio if you have a high work load and need to put all of your concentration into flying. Remember, you as captain, are responsible for the safe outcome of the flight. 

8. Listen carefully and do not hear what you want/expect to hear. You may receive the same clearance for every flight and get used to hearing the same thing, such as not above 1,500ft. Then one day, it may change,such as not above 1,000ft. It is easy to assume that you heard correctly, but make sure you are listening! 

9. Clarify anything you do not understand.

Don't bluff it. If you don't understand your clearance, or missed something, ask for clarification. Ask them to say in plain English what they want you to do if necessary.

10. Don't respond when a controller asks you to standby.

They are busy and don't need you to confirm that you heard that. Just remain silent and wait for them to call you back.

11. Use your full call sign unless ATC shorten it.

This can lead to confusion if you use your shortened call sign and there is a similar call sign on frequency. I hear pilots tuning into a new frequency using shortened call signs such as G-AB. Should the controller guess the rest?

12. Ask ATC to standby if you need time to think.

If an unusual situation occurs and you need time to think about what you want to do, just ask them to standby. This will give you time to think and you wont feel rushed to answer them immediately.

13. Use your call sign at the right point in your transmission.

If you are responding, use your call sign at the end. If you are making an announcement, it usually goes at the beginning, or just after the station name.

Example -

"cleared to land, Golf Alpha Bravo"


"Golf Alpha Bravo, downwind 25"


"Edinburgh Approach, Golf Alpha Charlie Alpha Bravo"

14. Don't read back surface wind information when taking off or landing.

It is not necessary.

15. Practice with QuizAero!

Our Radiotelephony Audio Course is designed to help pilots assimilate themselves with the flows of VFR radio calls in all environments, including full ATC airport procedures, air-ground and AFIS procedures, as well as requesting services en-route such as a zone transit or basic service. It is available online and on a USB stick.

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