Short Final: CTAF Etiquette


My friend Ron has several pet peeves regarding radio etiquette on CTAF. I was inbound to our home base Charlotte‑Monroe Executive Airport when I heard him on frequency one afternoon and decided to see how many of his pet peeves I could check off in one transmission:

“Monroe traffic, Skyhawk 2055E is turning left final (1) for Runway zero five (2) for full stop landing and taxi back to line up and wait (3). Any traffic in the area please advise (4).”

(1) You can’t turn left or right final. There is only a turn to final.

(2) “Zero Five” isn’t painted on the runway. It’s only the number 5.

(3) You don’t “Line up and wait” at a non‑towered field.

(4) The AIM specifically states not to say this! You should be listening prior to making your call.

Elliott Cox

Clover, SC

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  1. I used to wonder about the “left final” point: there is a left and right crosswind, downwind and base, but only one final.

    But, for someone looking for traffic, it’s somewhat useful to know if you’re turning from left base to final, or right base to final – it helps to clarify where to look. If you’re in a low-wing airplane turning right base to final and someone calls out a left base to final, you are going to want to perk right up.

    So, the full (pedantic) phrasing would be “turning left base to final”. But, if you say “turning left final” you communicate the same information and tie up marginally less airtime.

    So, I’d give that one a thumbs up, not down. It’s useful and brief.

  2. I don’t like the “Any traffic please advise”–but sometimes, there is a place for it.

    In Minnesota, we often have a lot of days when the ceiling is between 1,000 and 2,000 feet–or visibility is restricted by snow. It’s VFR, but there isn’t a lot of time for a pilot in the pattern to find me–or for me to find him. If I’m flying a turbine aircraft, I’m often on the approach, and cancel IFR when I break out. A quick switch to advisory to announce position, but I WOULD LIKE to know if there is any traffic in the pattern. I usually say “NXXXXX is on the approach to runway 35 at KXXX–any traffic please advise.”

    This is an example of an exception to the rule.

    The pilot in the pattern knows where to look for me–and I’d like to know if there is any traffic in the pattern.

    • I’d humbly suggest that you try to start listening to the CTAF a bit earlier, before you cancel IFR and are potentially screaming into a pattern already occupied by other aircraft. Doing so will let you know who else is in the pattern, and start to form a picture in your mind of who is there and what they’re doing.

      It’s your responsibility to see and avoid other traffic, it’s not their job to respond to a general request to identify themselves. “Any traffic please advise” strikes me as a a bit lazy, and if there are several other planes out there, it leads to temporary chaos on the frequency as everyone steps on each other as they try to respond.

      It’s pretty much acknowledged by everyone that “any traffic please advise” is never appropriate, which is why the AIM specifically advises against it. Everyone making that call thinks that they are somehow an exception to that rule, but in actuality they are pilots who have failed to prepare for the potentially-busy terminal environment they are entering.

      • Agree. The approach clearance and switch to CTAF normally occur before the Final Approach Fix allowing plenty of time to communicate, and at that point, normal communication on CTAF is the priority. The IFR cancellation can wait.

      • Are you instrument rated?

        Perhaps you didn’t read the entire post. “In cloud until breaking out at 1000′ to 2000′ feet AGL, or restricted visibility in snow” (or with GPS approaches–even lower)–but in that case, there SHOULDN’T be VFR traffic to worry about anyway. That puts you INSIDE the Final Approach Fix on a 1-2 mile final–spring-loaded for a missed approach.
        *You CAN’T “monitor the CTAF a bit earlier”, as you suggested–you are still IMC and need to monitor ATC.
        * You CAN’T “cancel IFR” while still in clouds–or until you can maintain the 500′ below clouds OR are less than 700′ AGL and out of controlled airspace as required by the FAA. (related note–you can only HOPE that the guy in the VFR traffic pattern IS MAINTAINING HIS OWN CLOUD CLEARANCE MINIMUMS).

        At most rural airfields, cancelling IFR on the ground would mean making a telephone call, after looking up the ATC number. In the meantime, the field is closed to any other aircraft taking off or landing IFR. (Yes, you can still fly the traffic pattern VFR IF you stay below 700′ AGL (magenta area on your VFR chart) OR, if above, maintain 500′ below clouds. (You DO maintain those altitudes, don’t you?) As for me, I’d rather make a radio call to let someone know where I am and ask where THEY are than take a chance on someone in my windshield right after breaking out of the overcast.

        Sorry if you are offended by an extra radio call trying to find out where traffic might be located–(especially while someone in the traffic pattern is making the 4th call in the current circuit)–but the reason for using the radio IS for avoiding a mid-air AND for letting anyone ELSE see an aircraft that has just popped out of the clouds.

        The alternative is for control towers at every airport with an instrument approach to prevent this very scenario between IFR and VFR traffic, and very FEW OF US WANT THAT!

          • No. Usually “Advise cancelling IFR on this frequency–if unable, close by telephone with XXXX.” (The FAA removed our Remote Communication Outlet).

            Maybe its the difference between flying in the hinterlands in the Midwest, as opposed to the more-frequented fields in Metro areas–but with the exception of the East Coast, I DO FLY the rest of the U.S. and foreign countries.

            Either way–I want to know WHO is WHERE around the airport–so we can coordinate our intentions. How can anyone object to pilots coordinating their arrival?

            The big objection to “please advise” is “frequency congestion”–yet these same people believe they are somehow “innoculated” against a possible mid-air because they call on every leg of the pattern–“departing runway XX, crosswind, downwind, base, final.” Much as I don’t like “please advise” EITHER, I’ll take that extra two words of “please advise” instead of simply announcing “NXXXX final for runway XXXXX”–expecting that will suffice.

        • Not getting approval to change to advisory frequency, as explained in AIM paragraph 4-1-5 and required in the controller’s handbook (JO7110.65), is totally baffling to me. Further as explained in paragraph 5-4-4-d, the pilot is then expected to broadcast intentions of the approach, position, when over the final approach fix inbound, and monitor for reports from other pilots. I discussed this with a controller including what you mentioned (that you are not advised to change to advisory frequency) and he did not understand why that would happen. He mentioned if the pilot is approaching the FAF and still hasn’t been instructed to change to the advisory frequency, he should question the controller.

  3. Love it – another opportunity to hash out the CTAF!

    ““Zero Five” isn’t painted on the runway. It’s only the number 5”

    And we have a Rwy 4 and Rwy 34 at our airport. When Rwy 34 is favored, Rwy 4 is often good for practicing X-Wind work. So the pattern goes quiet and I practice X-Wind work on Rwy 4. My CTAF call is a very clear “ZERO 4”. Just in case anyone is inbound, has listened to the ATIS and is planning on 34. In fact if someone does make a 10 mile call – I’ll even make my call along the lines of “34 is favored and I am left down wind on ZERO 4 for X-Wind work – will stay clear of incoming traffic”.

    Honestly I think the inclusion of an appropriate ZERO applies to most of the crossed runways that end in the same number. It does no harm and clears up potential confusion for minimal radio time.


    • Exactly.

      And “there’s no zero painted on the runway” is no basis for how that runway should be identified in radio communications. I suspect it’s painted a “5” rather than “05” because at a glance, or in less-than-ideal visibility, the “5” is unambiguous, whereas “05” could possibly consfused for “35”. In radio comms, “zero five” is definitely less ambiguous than “five”, especially at an airport with another “something five” runway.

  4. While just saying “any traffic please advise” by itself is, as the AIM says, not an approved self-announced position report, but using it WITH your self announced position report should be fine.

  5. about two or three years ago our EAA chapter had a discussion about the proper phraseology for Runway 1 at our local airport. Several pilots were stead fast that it should be “01” while others said it should only be “1” since that is all that is painted on the ground.

    I did a little digging and came up with this FAA document: commonly known as FAA order 7110.65, in section 2-4-17 (PDF page 87) it shows the runway designation of 3 to be called “Runway three” so the correct way to say it is without a prefix of zero. There you go, the FAA has an answer for everything!

    The international standard however is different and is supposed to be read as 2 digits, eg 01, the only place in the US that you will find 2 digits being used is military bases as they follow the international standards.

      • yeah, there is the right way, the wrong way and the military way. The FAA publishes the phraseology that they expect for a reason, consistency which should lead to a lack of confusion.

        In reality my BIGGEST pet peeve at non towered airports are pilots that do not add the airport name to the beginning and the end of the call. Too many airports around here that share the same CTAF frequency with the same runways.

  6. I fly at an uncontrolled field and always hear “Cessna XYZ” taking the “active” runway. There is NO active runway at an uncontrolled, non towered airfield. So what runway are they “taking?” I could land or takeoff in any direction I want , even sideways or on the grass next to the runway. Please just say “Cessna XYZ departing runway 4” (or whatever runway is preferred that day). Sometimes with no traffic and light winds I’ll land “against” the most common runway as it’s a 30 second taxi to my hangar after I turn off. There is also a lot of training and the beside terrible and improper radio protocol, with instructors trying to sound “cool” and clogging up the frequency, most of the instructors tend to drag out their downwinds so far that an engine failure would certainly put then on the roof of the Home Depot 10 miles away. Whether they are trying to build flight time by extending the downwind, or giving students time to get “set up”, it’s a recipe for disaster should they have an actual engine failure. Sometimes they are so far out on final I simply make an announcement, turn base and final and am back in my hangar before they even cross over the numbers.

  7. Everyone has their pet peeves, but I can’t see why “zero five” should arouse anyone’s ire and yes, it can make the transmission more understandable. I don’t hear “left final” as an abbreviation for “turning left base to final” very often, but here at our strip, for the normally favored runway it does carry the useful spotting information that the aircraft is coming off the south “power” pattern rather than the northside “glider/ultralight” pattern. A little too much info is better than not enough, so if the meaning is clear and you keep it short, no foul.

    As to the much decried “all traffic please advise”, I do admit finding its rise in popularity irritating and have never used it. Still, more than once I have also been irritated to discover upon arriving at pattern entry there is a radio-equipped & on-frequency someone doing touch-and-goes who seemingly was testing my see and avoid skills by remaining silent during my announced approach. NORDO is not a virtue either.