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The Four Ws

As stated on Monday, confidence is the key to not only believing in yourself and enjoying your successes in life, but it is also a way to make your needs known and to effectively communicate.  This comes into play with one of the most important aspects of being in a flight deck environment and is a must for any pilot: communicating with ATC.  I write this post partially as a skill review and reminder to myself.

Student pilots master this concept in training and is carried throughout one's career, whether recreational or professional, in the plane.  My flight instructor initially taught me how to communicate with the tower via the 4 Ws:

  • WHO are you intending to call to?  ATC? Ground? Having the right frequency and people to talk to in order to voice your needs or emergencies is key.


  • (KNOW) WHO you are and always state it to ATC.  Pilots and controllers are all human and make mistakes - especially when operating fatigued.  As taught and stressed to me before, you must always know your identifier and state it to ATC even though they may know who you are.  [A side point for all student pilots: do not rely on dialogues over LiveATC as role models.  CFIs do take note of their students trying to model readbacks of these pilots when communicating with ATC during a flight lesson - with a groan - and correct their students accordingly.]
  • WHAT is your request?  Clearance?  Taxi?  Takeoff?  Which ATIS information set do you possess?  
  • WHERE are you?  Always know your position both in the sky and the ground.  If ATC asks your position and intentions, state clearly and ASAP.  We all know that controllers have their hands full.  The bigger the airfield, the fuller the hands.  It's always good to study, in depth, the flight charts of an intro airport pre-flight.  Lastly, ATC communications in the U.S. and most airports worldwide are in English.  Every pilot worldwide should know how to effectively understand and communicate over the radio to even if it is to get from the runway to the gate.  Yes, having the famous or infamous miscommunication between that 747 from the Far East and JFK Tower in mind to realize how important this really is.    That radio recording is probably still on YouTube.


I personally do not like wasting other's time, especially having ATC repeat instructions at a busy airport.  Time is money and could also be another flight's emergency.  The only exception to my personal rule is when I need to have ATC repeat because of inability to understand the controller due to radio reception or safety issue/emergency.  Having a system to jot instructions down, preferably pen and paper is a great idea (especially in genav) as opposed to a handheld electronic device.  This concept is best ingrained during initial flight training.  Even though one may have a great vocal memory, it's still best to note instructions.

My thoughts  and empathy do go out to the controllers as the job itself is stressful for sure, but critical.  I only have one humble and professional request, though: please give instructions at a reasonable tempo so your time is not wasted repeating them.  I've actually heard a controller once giving instructions at the pace of the guy on the MicroMachines commercial.


Grand Rapids, Michigan (GRR)

Mastering confidence with effective radio communications will save not only heartache and headache, but also with others operating around you as well.  Do not be afraid to ask ATC for anything you need to fly effectively and safely as well as provide a safe flying atmosphere for others.

Aviation Is About Speaking Up
Whether you are a student where safety should be taught from the intro to being a professional always striving and fighting for safety, aviation is about speaking up.  Speaking up is a form of safety.  Be confident and do not be afraid to speak to ATC altogether.  They are here for a reason.  Be confident and speak your needs, intentions, and verification of instructions.  It could mean your life as well as those of others.  Soon enough, you will recognize and "get the feel" of the controllers at the airports you frequent.  [Referencing the final ATC dialogue between Speedbird Concorde 2 and JFK Tower upon it's final revenue departure.  It was tear jerking.]

Be and stay confident.  Speak up.  Speak effectively.  Fly safe.



  1. Jeremy, I'm taking this message... staying confident, will continue to speak up and effectively too, and will fly safe! Thank you for a great post and incredible message.


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