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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

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:

  • A333, en-route, near Bournemouth UK, 2012 (On 16 April 2012, a Virgin Atlantic A330-300 made an air turnback to London Gatwick after repetitive hold smoke detector warnings began to occur during the climb. Continuing uncertainty about whether the warnings, which continued after landing, were false led to the decision to order an emergency evacuation on the runway. Subsequent investigation found that the smoke warnings had all been false and had mainly come from one faulty detector. It also found that aspects of the way the evacuation had taken place had indicated where there were opportunities to try and improve passenger behaviour.)
  • 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.)
  • B737, Gran Canaria Spain, 2016 (On 7 January 2016, a Boeing 737-700 was inadvertently cleared by ATC to take off on a closed runway. The take-off was commenced with a vehicle visible ahead at the runway edge. When ATC realised the situation, a 'stop' instruction was issued and the aircraft did so after travelling approximately 740 metres. Investigation attributed the controller error to "lost situational awareness". It also noted prior pilot and controller awareness that the runway used was closed and that the pilots had, on the basis of the take-off clearance crossed a lit red stop bar to enter the runway without explicit permission.)
  • AT72 / B732, vicinity Queenstown New Zealand, 1999 (On 26 July 1999, an ATR 72-200 being operated by Mount Cook Airlines on a scheduled passenger flight from Christchurch to Queenstown entered the destination CTR without the required ATC clearance after earlier cancelling IFR and in marginal day VMC due to snow showers, separation was then lost against a Boeing 737-200 being operated IFR by Air New Zealand on a scheduled passenger flight from Auckland to Queenstown which was manoeuvring visually (circling) after making an offset VOR/DME approach in accordance with a valid ATC clearance.)
  • 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.)


Further Reading

AGC Safety Letters:

EUROCONTROL Action Plan for Air-Ground Communications Safety: