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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:

  • 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.)
  • B742 / A320, Frankfurt Germany, 2006 (On 12 January 2006, an Air China Boeing 747-200 which had just landed at Frankfurt failed to correctly understand and read back its taxi in clearance and the incorrect readback was not detected by the controller. The 747 then crossed another runway at night and in normal visibility whilst an A320 was landing on it. The A320 responded by increased braking and there was consequently no actual risk of collision. The controller had not noticed the incursion and, in accordance with instructions, all stop bars were unlit and the RIMCAS had been officially disabled due to too many nuisance activations.)
  • 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.)
  • A320 / F50, Adelaide Australia, 2016 (On 17 August 2016, a Fokker F50 crossed an active runway at Adelaide ahead of an A320 which was about to land after both its pilots and the controller involved had made assumptions about the content of radio transmissions they were aware they had not fully heard. The Investigation found that the A320 crew had responded promptly to the potential conflict by initiating a low go around over the other aircraft and noted that stop bars were not installed at Adelaide. In addition, aircraft taxiing across active runways were not required to obtain their crossing clearances on the runway control frequency.)
  • E190 / D328, Basel Mulhouse France, 2016 (On 7 March 2016, an Embraer 190 entered the departure runway at an intersection contrary to an ATC instruction to remain clear after neither a trainee controller nor their supervisor noticed the completely incorrect readback. An aircraft taking off in the opposite direction was able to rotate and fly over it before either controller noticed the conflict. The Investigation was told that the crew of the incursion aircraft had only looked towards the left before lining up and concluded that the event had highlighted the weakness of safety barriers based solely on the communications and vigilance of pilots and controllers.)

Further Reading

AGC Safety Letters:

EUROCONTROL Action Plan for Air-Ground Communications Safety: