Monday, July 24, 2006

IFR Draino

A while back when I was flying the Caravan, I was handed off to a NORCAL frequency one day and heard this exchange.
Norucaru approachu, Bonanza too shree foru sevuna xuray, missuda approachu Sarenusu, too sowsand, krime foru sowsand, rekwestu eye eff aru karensu, dareno.
The controller was baffled and asked the pilot to repeat. The pilot dutifully repeated the request and the format of his request was flawless. In spite of his heavy accent, I thought what the pilot was saying was pretty clear, but the controller was lost. He asked the pilot to repeat his destination several times and finally decided that the pilot was asking for an IFR clearance to RENO, entered the data, and came back with a clearance. All the while, I was waiting to check in on the frequency and a bunch of other pilots were waiting, too. After being given the clearance to Reno, the poor pilot again stated his request.

The controller was silent for a few seconds and I imagined him with his head in his hands or taking a sip of coffee. I took advantage of the break in the action to check in, adding "I think the Bonanza pilot is asking for an IFR clearance to Delano." The controller was grateful for the observation, got the pilot the clearance he wanted, and everything on frequency, temporarily plugged up by this confusion, gradually returned to normal.

Now before you jump on me for being ethnocentric, let me point out that many pilots who are native speakers of English are much harder to understand on frequency that the pilot I mentioned. The way pilots can help prevent a plugged up frequency is threefold, I think: Speaking clearly, pacing, and communicating in an accepted or expected format.

Some pilots have no trouble pronouncing words in English, but they either haven't bothered to learn, or they have just chosen to not use, standard phraseology. The solution to this is to occasionally open the AIM and read the pilot-controller glossary to refresh your memory. Is this tedious and time-consuming? Yes it is, and welcome to aviation!

Some of the most complicated radio work occurs when practicing instrument flying in VFR conditions since you often have oddball requests and approaches seldom terminate with a landing. To help make communication go more smoothly with ATC, I like to introduce pilots to my two friends LARI and ARTI. These two acronyms help you remember to give ATC all the needed information. The smoother your radio work during IFR training, the more accommodating the controller is likely to be.

When making initial contact with ATC (this assumes you haven't been handed off and the controller is not expecting your call), I recommend starting with a courtesy call.
Oakland Center, Cessna 12345, VFR, request.
When the controller asks you to say your request, use L A R I to remind yourself how format your request:

Location - relative to a VOR, airport or prominent landmark
Altitude - you can omit this if you are on the ground
Request - what you want to do
Information - the latest surface weather (ATIS or one minute weather).
Cessna 12345, a 182 slant golf, 16 miles south of Santa Rosa, 3500 feet, request Santa Rosa ILS 32 practice approach, multiple approaches, information Bravo

When you have been handed off to a different frequency and you are on a discrete transponder code, you are already in the system so use A R T I:

Altitude - your current altitude
Request - your requested approach, if any
Termination - how your approach will terminate
Information - the latest surface weather (ATIS or one minute weather)
Oakland Center, Cessna 12345, 6000 feet, request Santa Rosa GPS 14 practice approach, multiple approaches, information Bravo

If you're on an instrument flight plan, you can leave out the Termination part and ATC will assume you want a full-stop landing.

If you are checking back on after a missed approach, ARTI works well again.
Oakland Center, Cessna 12345, 1500 climbing 4000, request one turn in the hold, then another ILS 32 practice approach.

I emphasize the use of the word request rather than saying something like
... I'll be shooting the Santa Rosa GPS 14 practice approach ...
The word request indicates that you understand it is the controller's decision whether or not to give you a practice approach clearance. When you say request, you are acknowledging the controller's authority and in my experience, controller's appreciate this.

Of course there are variations on LARI and ARTI. You can check in with ARTI and request a direct routing or inform the controller that the previous sector assigned you a heading or altitude restriction. The point of these acronyms is to help you, in high workload moments, give the controller what he or she needs to know as concisely as possible.

So when the frequency gets clogged up and you're practicing instrument approaches, it's time to be sharp on the radio. Try out LARI and ARTI and see if you like the results. It should help things flow smoothly. Think of it as your own IFR Draino.


Dave Starr said...

Some very good observations. I'm going to make a special effort to remember ARTI and LARI. I don't know if you are familiar with Don Brown, a senior Center controller who writes for AvWeb (
Don is a long-time safety rep and really "gets" ATC and what hurts both pilots and controllers from making the best of it. His columns are arranged in a group of "minicourses' and communication is one of the subjects. Free registration required, but worth it.

The illustrative situation you started with happens all too often with or without accent difficulties. A prime rule that works well in the air or on the ground is ... when you repeat and are still not understood, _rephrase_ what you're trying to say. It doesn't matter if the fault is with the transmitter (speaker), transmission media or receiver (listener), if a message isn't understood by the second try, there's a fault and saying the same thing with different phraseology is in order.

Ron said...

The "request" thing (Oakland Center, Cessna 12345, VFR, request) I've never understood. The very fact that you're calling tells him you have a request of some sort. A lot of people use it regardless of how busy the frequency is.

If the frequency is busy and I'm having a hard time getting in, I'll sometimes pipe in with a quick, clear "Socal, Cirrus 334CD" and that's it. You can hear the appreciation in their voice for keeping it short.

Either the controller can handle you right now, or he can't and he'll write down your N number for a callback when he can. This even extends to ground frequencies like clearance delivery. If you wait until nothing's going on, you could be waiting all day. You gotta get your N number heard so you're at least "in line".

If the frequency is quiet, I'll give my request right off the bat. I know sometimes they're on a landline or whatever, but the controllers rarely seem to have a problem picking it up.

Doc said...

Very nice article on the topic. I learnt of these problems by reading Dan Brown articles on avweb. Definitely a must read for any pilot who talks with ATC.

At first, it was very hard for me to understand the controllers. I figured trying to fly the plane and trying to understand at the same time is not easy. So I started lisntening to It just took a couple to days and it really helped.

John said...


The "request" phraseology came from an old handout I used to have from the now defunct Bay Approach.

Some controllers want your full request on initial contact, others will miss most of it. So a courtesy call is not always a good idea. I know that the Oakland tower controllers absolutely hate it when a pilot doesn't make their request on initial contact.

I agree that if the frequency is quiet, go ahead with the full request.

Many Oakland Center controllers will just assign a squawk when you make your initial call because so many pilots are unable to accurately report their position. After Center sees the squawk, s/he tell the pilot where they are ...