Safety topic from Episode 3

Golden rules of radio calls

Correct frequency, volume UP: Sounds pretty basic, right? OK, hands up who has NEVER selected the wrong frequency (and thus talking to nobody who cares), nor been caught with the volume down (and thus hearing nobody else, cruising along in blissful silence). How about including it in your CLEAROF check, if you don’t already do so. When you get to ‘Radio’, check for the right frequency and volume up. Read our section on Area frequency v local frequency

Brief and clear:  It’s all a waste of everybody’s time if your transmission is not easily readable. Have a think about what you’re going to say before you transmit, make it slow enough to be understood and project your voice so that the words are clear. Basically, other pilots will want to know what type of aircraft you’re in (to assess speed), where you are and what your intentions are. So keep it brief and make sure you include only the useful information - particularly important on a congested frequency. 

Too many calls:  Try not to clog up the frequency with unnecessary radio calls. If you’ve made the recommended calls, we don’t need to hear the life story of your circuit unless you feel the calls are required due to possible traffic conflict. Listen carefully to other calls and assess from these whether you need to clarify your position to avoid traffic conflict.  And use some airmanship – if you can see that an aircraft ahead of you is about to land, perhaps you could delay your call for a few seconds to minimise the distraction for him or her.

Local landmarks: Several years ago, three charter pilots doing separate scenic flights above a well-known tourist attraction were exchanging regular position reports over the CTAF frequency. There were lots of “No worries” and “Well clear” replies from each of them, but it was a different story for the visiting pilot who was that day on a first-time tour of this area. The commercial pilots were using local landmarks that were not even labelled on any chart, and thus completely useless to our unfamiliar pilot who was ageing noticeably as he scanned the skies around him for the traffic. Intelligently, he finally asked for clarification and was given it. 

A word about wording: When you’re making a broadcast at a non-controlled aerodrome or in Class E or G airspace, it is likely being picked up by pilots at many different locations, so let’s try and ease the confusion here. You are required to commence your call with your location followed by ‘traffic’, for example ‘Bundaberg traffic’ and, at the end of the transmission, just the name of the location ‘Bundaberg’, without the word ‘traffic’. 

Talking amongst yourselves:  AIP GEN 3.4 (3.1.5) refers to interpilot air-to-air communication: “In accordance with regional agreements, 123.45MHZ is designated as the air-to-air VHF communications channel. Use of this channel will enable aircraft engaged in flights over remote and oceanic areas out of range of VHF ground stations and not in the vicinity of a non--controlled aerodrome depicted on a chart to exchange necessary operational information and to facilitate the resolution of operational problems.”  Get it?  It’s NOT a chat channel for unnecessary discussion with your mates.   

Interpret the calls! Listen out for the position and the type of aircraft you hear inbound to the same location you’re heading for. These days, the pilots of almost all aircraft are able to retrieve an ETA from their GPS. If you hear an inbound QantasLink jet, for example, with an ETA a minute later than yours in your little Jabiru, you might like to check out how that’s going to pan out. Have a look at the runway layout in your ERSA and you might find there’s a long backtrack involved in getting yourself off the runway! In such a case, consider taking the pressure off yourself and offer to land second. 

The point is, don’t just listen to radio calls – interpret them. Turn them into a visual picture for yourself of where that other aircraft is and the intention of its pilot. 


  • Radio telephony procedures AIP GEN 3.4
  • Read-back requirements AIP GEN 3.4; ENR 1.1
  • CAAP 166-1
  • CAAP 166-2