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Non-Standard Phraseology

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Article Information
Category: Air Ground Communication Air Ground Communication
Content source: SKYbrary About SKYbrary
Content control: EUROCONTROL EUROCONTROL

Description

Of the many factors involved in the process of communication, phraseology is perhaps the most important because it enables us to communicate quickly and effectively despite differences in language and reduces the opportunity for misunderstanding.

Standard phraseology reduces the risk that a message will be misunderstood and aids the read-back/hear-back process so that any error is quickly detected. Ambiguous or non-standard phraseology is a frequent causal or contributory factor in aircraft accidents and incidents.

International standards of phraseology are laid down in ICAO Annex 10 Volume II Chapter 5 and in ICAO Doc 9432 - Manual of Radiotelephony. Many national authorities also publish radiotelephony manuals which amplify ICAO provisions, and in some cases modify them to suit local conditions.

This article deals with non-standard phraseology, which is sometimes adopted unilaterally by national or local air traffic services in an attempt to alleviate problems; however, standard phraseology minimises the potential for misunderstanding.

Effects

Where non-standard phraseology is introduced after careful consideration to address a particular problem, it can make a positive contribution to flight safety; however, this must be balanced with the possibility of confusion for pilots or ATCOs not familiar with the phraseology used.

Non-standard phraseology in Europe

European Union

Regulation 2016/1185 introduces some deviations from the standard ICAO phraseology at EU level:

  • Flight levels which are whole hundreds (e.g. FL 100, FL 200, FL 300, etc.) are to be pronounced as "Flight level (number) hundred".
  • Altimeter setting of 1000 hPa is to be pronounced as "One thousand".
  • Transponder codes containing whole thousands are to be pronounced as "(number) thousand".
  • For transfers of communication within one ATS unit, the call sign of the ATS unit may be omitted, when so authorised by the competent authority.

United Kingdom

The UK CAA has adopted certain non-standard phraseology designed to reduce the chance of mishearing or misunderstanding RTF communications. This phraseology is not in accordance with ICAO but is based on careful study of the breakdown of pilot/controller communications. Some other European countries have also adopted similar non-standard phraseology.

The following paragraphs taken from the UK Manual of Radiotelephony summarise the main differences.

  • The word ‘to’ is to be omitted from messages relating to FLIGHT LEVELS.
  • All messages relating to an aircraft’s climb or descent to a HEIGHT or ALTITUDE employ the word ‘to’ followed immediately by the word HEIGHT or ALTITUDE. Furthermore, the initial message in any such RTF exchange will also include the appropriate QFE or QNH.
  • When transmitting messages containing flight levels each digit shall be transmitted separately. However, in an endeavour to reduce ‘level busts’ caused by the confusion between some levels (100/110, 200/220 etc.), levels which are whole hundreds e.g. FL 100, 200, 300 shall be spoken as “Flight level (number) HUNDRED”. The word hundred must not be used for headings.
  • Examples of the above are:
    • “RUSHAIR G-BC climb flight level wun too zero.”
    • “RUSHAIR G-BC descend to altitude tree tousand feet QNH 1014.”
    • “RUSHAIR G-BC climb flight level wun hundred.”
    • “RUSHAIR G-BC turn right heading wun wun zero.”

Non-standard North American phraseology

A particular example of non-standard phraseology which is in regular use in North America is the instruction “taxi into position and hold”, (which has the same meaning as the ICAO standard phrase “line up and wait”).This can be confused with the old ICAO phraseology “taxi to holding position” (which means taxi to, and hold at, a point clear of the runway).

Use of this non-ICAO standard phraseology is fail-safe in North America, but in Europe can lead to an aircraft taxiing onto the runway when not cleared to do so. To overcome this problem ICAO has amended its phraseology to "taxi to holding POINT".

Non-standard Phraseology in Abnormal/Emergency Situations

Is is often necessary for pilots and controllers to revert to non-standard phraseology in abnormal and emergency situations. The extent to which this occurrs, and leads to effective communication, will depend upon the quality of the both speech delivery and language proficiency of those involved.

Accidents and Incidents

The following events include "Phraseology" as a contributing factor:

  • GLEX/F2TH, vicinity Ibiza Spain, 2012 (On 21 September 2012, two aircraft came into conflict in Class 'A' airspace whilst under radar control at night and loss of separation was resolved by TCAS RA responses by both aircraft. Investigation found that one of the aircraft had passed a procedurally-documented clearance limit without ATC clearance or intervention and that situational awareness of its crew had been diminished by communications with the conflicting aircraft being conducted in Spanish rather than English. A Safety Recommendation on resolving the "persistent problem" of such language issues was made, noting that a similar recommendation had been made 11 years earlier.)
  • B738 / AT46, Jakarta Halim Indonesia, 2016 (On 4 April 2016, a Boeing 737-800 crew taking off in normal night visibility from Jakarta Halim were unable to avoid an ATR 42-600 under tow which had entered their runway after ambiguity in its clearance. Both aircraft sustained substantial damage and caught fire but all those involved escaped uninjured. The Investigation concluded that contributory to the accident had been failure to use a single runway occupancy frequency, towing of a poorly lit aircraft, the potential effect on pilot detection of an obstruction of embedded approach lighting ahead of the displaced landing threshold and issues affecting controller traffic monitoring effectiveness.)
  • E190 / A320, Toronto ON Canada, 2016 (On 30 January 2016, an Embraer 190-100 crew lined up on their assigned departure runway in good visibility at night without clearance to do so just as an Airbus A320 was about to land on it. The Investigation attributed the incursion to crew error arising from misinterpretation by both pilots of a non-standard Ground Controller instruction to position alongside another aircraft also awaiting departure at the hold when routinely transferring them to Tower as an instruction to line up on the runway. The failure to use the available stop bar system as a basis for controller incursion alerting was identified.)
  • BN2P / B763, vicinity Kagoshima Japan, 2015 (On 10 October 2015, a Britten-Norman BN2 instructed to join final behind a Boeing 767 instead joined in front of it which obliged the 767 crew to make a go around. The Investigation was unable to establish why the BN2 pilot failed to follow their conditional clearance but noted that the 'follow' clearance given onto final approach had not been accompanied by a sequence number, and when giving the aircraft type to be followed so that its sighting could be reported, the controller had not challenged the incomplete readback or repeated the aircraft type when subsequently issuing the clearance.)
  • A319/A332, vicinity Barcelona Spain, 2012 (On 8 February 2012, a TCAS RA occurred between an Airbus A330 and an Airbus A319 both under ATC control for landing on runway 25R at Barcelona as a result of an inappropriate plan to change the sequence. The opposite direction aircraft both followed their respective RAs and minimum separation was 1.4 nm horizontally and 400 feet vertically. The Investigation noted that the use of Spanish to communicate with one aircraft and English to communicate with the other had compromised situational awareness of the crew of the latter who had also not had visual contact with the other aircraft.)

Further Reading

AGC Safety Letters:

EUROCONTROL Action Plan for Air-Ground Communications Safety: