Tips for better ATC communication

Student pilot “Topflight” has posted an interesting question on the Ask a Flight Instructor website about his problems with ATC communication:  

Now that im flying IFR   ATC  communication has gone to another level and im finding it hard to keep up  , im stumbling  on my words , i feel like its too much information at a time. Any tips or help would be greatly appreciated.

Commenter Micah suggested that “Topflight” spend time listening to others communicate and he noted a service called where you can listen to actual ATC communications. He further suggested listening to a channel there while looking over a local chart of the area.

Meanwhile, commenter Bubba mentioned:

I had a student that was a really smart guy, but still had trouble on the radios in the IFR environment. In his case he was trying to figure out everything that he needed to do at the same time he was reading back the instruction and that’s what caused the issue. So I recommended that he quickly read back what ATC says and then think about what they just asked you to do.

He further added that over time, communicating with ATC will become second nature.

James MacGregor CFI then pointed out that he has noticed that you will get a better response from ATC if you are “more staccato then legato as they would say in music.” He then added that he has:

…some students that say things very meek their words flow into each other, these guys will geta slower response fromATC, I can get on the horn and say things very clearly and sharply with confidence and get a noticible diffrence in my communication with the controllers. Biggest thing is be confident when you speak.

Finally, Heather McNevin suggested actually visiting a control tower to get a behind the scenes look at how ATC communicates. She also pointed out that being nervous will impact a pilot’s ability to speak and hence, its important to stay relaxed and calm.

Would you have any further suggestions for “Topflight”? Moreover and for those of you who regularly fly over to the continent, how do you deal with different accents from ATC controllers?


5 Responses to Tips for better ATC communication

  1. Ralf March 17, 2011 at 14:51 #

    Wow, read back and then think about what they would want you to do? Doesn't sound like a very good advice to me. I know we all have been there, responding to ATC in an "automated" form, only to realize that the given clearance is different than normal…

    So to accept e.g. a clearance and then think about whether you will be able to make it (e.g. a steep climb or descent). I don't know…

    • Matthew Stibbe March 21, 2011 at 17:31 #

      Yup, and even with around 700 hours, a CPL/IR and loads of confidence, I still make some horrendous mistakes. If anyone was on Rotterdam Tower yesterday at around 4pm, you'll know what I mean. If not, well, I'm going to plead the aviator's fifth! 🙂

  2. Fred Woodbridge March 17, 2011 at 15:09 #

    Something that helped me A LOT was participating as an actual ATC or pilot on VATSIM (

    • Matthew Stibbe March 21, 2011 at 17:30 #

      VATSIM has helped friends of mine too. I found it helpful to listen to ATC on the internet or on my handheld when I was learning radio stuff. But I never really had much problem with R/T. I think this is because I was in the army cadets at school and I was in the signals section so we had a lot of training on army radios. Sergeant Matthew – now that's a funny memory. (It's a bit like the English comedian Bob Monkhouse who once said 'when I was young they laughed at me when I told them I wanted to be a comedian when I grew up. We'll, they're not laughing now!') Matthew

  3. Kebgolfer March 21, 2011 at 21:32 #

    Again, stay calm and relax but, speak precisely and very clearly and with confidence and everything will go smoother.

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