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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:

  • AS32 / B734, Aberdeen UK, 2000 (For reasons that were not established, a Super Puma helicopter being air tested and in the hover at about 30 feet agl near the active runway at Aberdeen assumed that the departure clearance given by GND was a take off clearance and moved into the hover over the opposite end of the runway at the same time as a Boeing 737 was taking off. The 737 saw the helicopter ahead and made a high speed rejected take off, stopping approximately 100 metres before reaching the position of the helicopter which had by then moved off the runway still hovering.)
  • B738/B738, vicinity Queenstown New Zealand, 2010 (On 20 June 2010, a Boeing 737-800 being operated by New Zealand company Pacific Blue AL on a scheduled passenger flight from Auckland to Queenstown lost IFR separation assurance against a Boeing 737-800 being operated by Qantas on a scheduled passenger flight from Sydney to Queenstown whilst both aircraft were flying a go around following successive but different instrument approaches at their shared intended destination. There were no abrupt manoeuvres and none of the respectively 88 and 162 occupants of the two aircraft were injured.)
  • A319 / A320, Paris CDG France, 2014 (On 25 November 2014, the crew of an Airbus A320 taking off from Paris CDG and in the vicinity of V1 saw an A319 crossing the runway ahead of them and determined that the safest conflict resolution was to continue the takeoff. The A320 subsequently overflew the A319 as it passed an estimated 100 feet agl. The Investigation concluded that use of inappropriate phraseology by the TWR controller when issuing an instruction to the A319 crew had led to a breach of the intended clearance limit. It was also noted that an automated conflict alert had activated too late to intervene.)
  • B773, vicinity Houston TX USA, 2014 (On 3 July 2014, a Boeing 777-300 departing Houston came within 200 feet vertically and 0.61nm laterally of another aircraft after climbing significantly above the Standard Instrument Departure Procedure (SID) stop altitude of 4,000 feet believing clearance was to FL310. The crew responded to ATC avoiding action to descend and then disregarded TCAS 'CLIMB' and subsequently LEVEL OFF RAs which followed. The Investigation found that an inadequate departure brief, inadequate monitoring by the augmented crew and poor communication with ATC had preceded the SID non-compliance and that the crew should have followed the TCAS RAs issued.)
  • B738, Perth Western Australia, 2010 (On 24 February 2010, a Garuda Boeing 737-800 misunderstood the runway exit instruction issued during their landing roll at Perth and turned onto an intersecting active runway. An expeditious exit from this runway followed and no actual conflict resulted. The phraseology used by air traffic control was open to incorrect interpretation by the flight crew and led to their premature turn off the landing runway despite a prior briefing on exit options.)

Further Reading

AGC Safety Letters:

EUROCONTROL Action Plan for Air-Ground Communications Safety: