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Training and Safety Tip: Avoiding the inappropriate

The student pilot is dutiful but driving me nuts. He makes every possible call as he plies the pattern. The crosswind turn. Then the downwind. The downwind midfield. The base. The final. The on-the-go. Crosswind again. Downwind…

Photo by Mike Fizer.

The problem? He’s not even at my airport. He’s 83 miles southeast, clogging up my bandwidth. So, while his instructor must have studied Table 4-1-1 in the FAA’s Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM)—the master list of radio calls for nontowered airports—he must have missed Advisory Circular AC90-66B, the FAA’s nontowered airport ops recommendations. Because while the table shows a blizzard of calls, the AC provides some balance, making it clear that all traffic within a 10-mile radius of a nontowered airport “should continuously monitor and communicate, as appropriate, on the designated CTAF.”

That’s the key. As appropriate.

So, we need to think about what’s appropriate for safe operations, because from inbound to clearing the active runway, there are at least seven possible radio calls you can make landing at a nontowered airport. Four more if you’re doing a touch and go.

And that’s a lot of calls on the radio.

This is fine if you have the airspace to yourself. But of course, if you have the airspace to yourself, there’s really no need to make all those calls. Meanwhile, if the airspace is crowded, the calls arguably have more value, but the frequency quickly gets congested, sometimes to the point of actually making it less safe.

So, what to do? Well, to decide what is appropriate, think about what is inappropriate. If you have the pattern all to yourself, one call per circuit is enough to alert inbound traffic that you are there—more calls are inappropriate. If it’s more crowded, what is the minimum number of appropriate calls? If there are two of you well-spaced in the pattern, again, one call per pattern is enough for safety; however, if the other aircraft is behind you on downwind, adding a base call is appropriate. But it’s inappropriate for you to call final if she calls her base as No. 2, with traffic in sight. Appropriate is minimalistic.

Of course, an appropriate call is also a correct call. Be clear, don’t rush, and be sure to include who you are broadcasting to on both ends of the call like bookends. Anything less would be inappropriate.

William E. Dubois
William E. Dubois is a widely published aviation writer and columnist. He is an FAA Safety Team rep and a rare "double" Master Ground Instructor accredited by both NAFI and MICEP. An AOPA member since 1983, he holds a commercial pilot certificate and has a degree in aviation technology. He was recognized as a Distinguished Flight Instructor in the 2021 AOPA Flight Training Experience Awards.
Topics: Flight School, Training and Safety, Student
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