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Dumbest CTAF Phraseology

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In Brainteaser Quiz #163, I asked, "What is the dumbest phraseology you routinely hear on CTAF?" CTAF means Common Traffic Advisory Frequency, the unsupervised, pilot-to-pilot, radio forum used when operating at airports without control towers. I asked the question because, as a flight instructor, I spend hours listening to all sorts of garbage on the air and was curious if anyone else found CTAF-speak to be annoying. A link was provided where anyone, whether pilot or not, on meds or off, could respond.

About 100 readers had something to say. We've removed all names from the survey to avoid possible fisticuffs on the ramp ... sorry, on the apron ... and removed possibly actionable phrases. Some readers took the opportunity to complain about ATC phraseology, which we won't get into here, and one reader asked us to do something about his neighbor's dog barking all night. Sorry, we can't help everyone, but we can give you a highly unscientific snapshot of what's bugging many pilots forced to listen to CTAF. We'll take them in order of ascending annoyance:

Flying a non-standard traffic pattern and then admitting so on the frequency, such as, "Entering right base" in a left-hand traffic pattern. Two pilots disliked that practice.

Another two pilots suggested that pilots refer to runways by their real names. Runway 8, for example, is not called "Runway zero eight." Read the number painted on the runway and say it verbatim. There are no Runways zero one, zero two, zero three ...

And two readers suggested that pilots learn where the upwind leg really is. Embarrassed, I looked it up in the AIM (4-3-2) and discovered the upwind leg is: "A flight path parallel to the landing runway in the direction of landing." We'll let others decide where parallel is, and I'll never report it again ... wherever it is.

A pair of readers -- who probably don't even know each other -- shared the opinion that using the word "traffic" as the last word in every transmission is dumb.

Three pilots opined that using N-numbers, such as "Cub 5399X," is a waste of time, because no one can see the numbers. "Yellow Cub" would suffice, as in, "Lock Haven traffic, Yellow Cub downwind ... (or) "Yellow Cub base ..." "Big jet, final ... "

Three pilots are irked by vague position reports, such as, "Over the lake." Fine phraseology, perhaps, in West Texas where you're lucky to find a lake. But in Minnesota? Which lake? We got 10,000 of 'em! It was suggested that pilots use distance and bearing reports instead, such as, "three northeast."

Wherever you are, never report "turning left final" or you'll irritate at least four flyers who pointed out that the final has no left or right. It's a straight line! Perhaps, you turned from a left base leg onto final, but that -- in the opinion of these four -- does not make it a left final.

"Taxiing into position and holding [on runway x]." Really? Five pilots (and I) agree that planting yourself on a runway with your back to the final approach at an airport without a control tower is ...well ... scary. Even with ATC help it's scary. At non-towered airports, hold short until the runway and final are clear and then depart. Don't dawdle on the runway. Besides, TIPH has been changed to "Line up and wait," which 9 out of 10 American pilots think is dumb. The other 10 percent don't know what it means.

A half-dozen respondents get irritated when IFR pilots report inbound, or holding over, fixes that most VFR pilots -- particularly students -- can't identify. "Where the heck is 'STANE inbound' in relation to the airport?" I don't know, but I agree. Give the CTAF listeners a useful position report, such as "Six northwest."

Fingernails-on-the-chalkboard award was given by six pilots who hate to hear "ah" or "um" or the real gap filler "and um" as the way to begin a transmission, as in: "And ... um ... Ailerona traffic, Cherokee November [there's another annoyance to some] 12345, we're ... um ... twelve ... ah ... north ... "

Thirty percent of pilots have never seen a chalkboard.

Please state the name of the airport at the end of your transmission. So say seven pilots who often miss the airport's name at the beginning of a transmission and so request that it be added at the end: "Ailerona, Champ 607, downwind Runway 19, Ailerona."

Not sure who Roger is, but seven readers believe he's overrated on CTAF. "Roger" means, "I have received all of your last transmission." Nothing else. Seven readers reported that "Roger" and his cousin, "Roger Wilco," make them reach for their Sidewinder fire buttons.

Eight pilots suggest that perhaps the best way to communicate on CTAF is to listen and not speak. I like that. These eight gently remind pilots who call CTAF to request the winds might do better to listen to the AWOS/ASOS. Or look at the windsock. Or the wind tee. Or the grass ...

Eight pilots despise CB talk, to which we say, "10-4, bugs us too, good buddy."

Nine pilots (and many air traffic controllers who didn't respond to our survey) say that if you announce "With you" in your transmission, it means nothing unless you're actually with the listener in the same airplane.

Perhaps those same nine, or perhaps a different nine, grind their dentures hearing excessive position reports: "Cub 81F, 25 north ... 15 north ... 10 north ... " You get the picture. Reporting every corner of the traffic pattern isn't necessary and often blocks pilots from making more important position reports.

"Taking the active." ("Slowly I turned ... ") Thirteen pilots irked by "Taking the active" want to know, "Where are you taking it? Will you bring it back so I can use it?" Some of the sarcastic 13 mentioned that, at an uncontrolled (non-towered) airport, there really is no "active" runway. (Some airport managers might disagree.) Pilots decide in which direction to land, so your "active" might be someone else's crosswind runway.

The penultimate annoying CTAF phrase from our survey is "Traffic in the area, please advise." Nineteen readers paused long enough from screaming, "Advise what!?!" at their windshields, to tell us just how much they hate that phrase, including these reported variations on the theme: "Anyone in the pattern, please advise," "Any traffic base or final, please advise," and a Canadian variant, "Conflicting traffic, please advise." (You can't believe how tempted I was to put "eh" at the end of that one.)

"Be advised" appeared as equally annoying but certainly more assertive, as in, "Be advised, I haven't read AIM 4-1-9 (g), which says that 'Traffic in the area, please advise' is not a recognized self-announce position and/or intention phrase and should not be used under any condition." But, hey, that's just the FAA talking.

Frankly, I was surprised that "Traffic in the area, please advise" didn't come in as the #1 dumb thing heard on the CTAF. That honor, with 25 votes, goes to not just a single annoying word or phrase but to a swarm of verbal sludge lumped together as "idle chatter."

Tune in 122.8 (a very common CTAF frequency) on any VFR weekend, and you'll hear a squeal of overlapping bad position reports and, worse, Facebook-like chats about who's flying what or where the gang's headed for lunch, coffee, doughnuts or fuel. In short, if it ain't important to flight, save it for the pilots' lounge or switch to the 122.75 chat room. Warning: 122.75 is the air-to-air frequency and not meant for airless thoughts unrelated to flight.

A handful of responses didn't poll high enough to make it into our list but are worth posting. Pilots of skydiving jump airplanes were gently requested to "speak slower." One Iowa jump pilot amused at least one listener on CTAF with his desperate calls to everyone in the state to "Use severe caution" over the jump zone. Severe? Really? You'd think that announcing bodies falling from 11,000 feet would warrant caution enough. Severe? Besides the FAA-approved reportable levels of caution are: trace, slight, moderate and extreme. (Don't ask me for a source; I just know these things.)

"We're comin' in!" poked one reader in the gut, while "Fixin' to turn final" got another's goat.

The runner-up in the Airport Curmudgeon category -- which I was hoping to win because my 1946 Aeronca Champ doesn't even have a radio -- comes from a Kentucky ATP, who writes that "Calling it a CTAF instead of a Unicom" really, really irritates him. I suggested he lower the shotgun, tip another couple fingers of bourbon and turn off the radio.

But the best complaint was aimed at -- I think -- the survey itself: "I'm sick and tired of a few know-it-all pilots making an ass of themselves on CTAF frequencies by berating or correcting other pilots on the radio. These so-called experts thinks [sic] they are right, and they need to prove it on the air by correcting other people's supposed communication mistakes on the airwaves. Let's be professional out there, and if you think you need to talk to somebody about their performance, do it one-on-one and don't embarrass yourself or anybody else in a public forum."

Well, that was embarrassing ...

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