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Training Tip: 'Clarification and amendment'Training Tip: 'Clarification and amendment'

Training Tip: ‘Clarification or amendment’

You have just turned downwind for your second trip around the towered airport’s traffic pattern when a twin-engine aircraft reports a two-mile final. The tower controller acknowledges, then calls your number and instructs you to “make short approach, cleared for the option.”

In the well-scripted dialog between pilots and air traffic controllers, “Make short approach” conveys specific expectations in such a traffic scenario. According to the Pilot/Controller Glossary, the terminology is “used by ATC to inform a pilot to alter his/her traffic pattern so as to make a short final approach.”

How you do it is not specified; that depends on pilot experience, familiarity with the aircraft being flown, and your comfort with current flight conditions.

Today that comfort level is not especially high. The wind has come up during your practice session, and is nibbling at the limits of what’s authorized for your solo flights.

The crosswind component has become a factor; being able to fly a reasonably long final approach has given you time to establish the proper crosswind correction. That won’t be possible if you accept the instructions issued by the tower.

Then don’t accept them. The controller’s concern is maintaining safe separation between aircraft. If you prefer to achieve that by letting the inbound aircraft land first, inform the controller promptly of that decision. Then be prepared to comply with new instructions, such as flying an extended downwind leg, making a 360-degree turn on the downwind (keep it shallow; the idea is to use up some time), or being vectored for spacing.

The importance of communicating clearly and concisely with air traffic control gets much emphasis in flight training. Just as important is understanding the roles you and the controller play through those communications. (Review Section 5. Pilot/Controller Roles and Responsibilities of the Aeronautical Information Manual.)

One of the most important pilot responsibilities is to request “clarification or amendment, as appropriate, any time a clearance is not fully understood or considered unacceptable from a safety standpoint.”

Not all student pilots are comfortable asserting themselves in this way with ATC. But you are the pilot; safe operation rests with you. Notify ATC that you are a student pilot, and keep in mind that the controller would rather accommodate your request for new instructions now than have to deal with a clearance gone awry a few minutes from now.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: ATC, FAA Information and Services, Pilots

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