Read you 5 – Handshakes, Courtesy and Brevity

June 29, 2015 by . 0 comments

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In my previous article Is this on? I gave a short intro about what this blog series will be about, so let’s not waste any time and start with a delicious topic: shakes!

Got you interested there, didn’t I?

Much to my regret, this article will not be about milkshakes or other delicious blended drinks, but about handshakes and their primary use in our Western cultural environments: They are part of a proper introduction. There is only one little issue we have sitting in our little aircraft, happily flying above the clouds VFR and wanting to enter into a conversation with air traffic control or flight information services: We can’t simply stretch out our hand, shake hands and say: “Hey! It’s me, great to meet you!“. So while we cannot reach out and shake hands, we will have to substitute this with some sort of virtual handshake to get acquainted with the controller and start our conversation.

2. Performance of Radio Telephony Communication
(1) Voice communication is performed as radio telephony communication in the aeronautical mobile service.
(2) Aeronautical mobile service is a voice communication between aeronautical stations and aircraft stations or between aircraft stations.

(Source: AIP ED GEN 3.4)

Yelling at our counterpart will not work, as most likely he will be several miles away in a cozy building with other fellow controllers, looking at radar screens and trying to see what you are doing there, as you have not yet made any contact. But aircraft are equipped with radio equipment, so this will be our primary tool to get the controller’s attention.

We have tuned in the frequency for the ATC or FIS we want to reach and need to establish two-way-communication. Let me start off with an example of how a really improper initial call looks like:

A: Langen ummm Information, DE ummm PIA, Cessna 172, VFR from ummm Dortmund to uhhhh Wilhelmshaven, 2 persons on board, 5nm north-west of errrr Dortmund VOR, 2500ft, currently flying heading errrr 023, squawking 7000, request status of errrr ED-R 110 and ED-R uhhhh 115, for traffic information.

What the pilot has done here is the equivalent of storming into an apartment full of people, looking for the host and then barraging him with your life-story without having been asked to share it. This would probably sound like this:

Michael, this is Frank, I’m a flight engineer, came here by bus, with another friend, now in your living room, second floor, are we, right here next to you, huh, in my best outfit I had in my wardrobe, hey, do you know if that girl over there is single, looks kinda pretty, anyway, request my first beer!
7. Establishment of Radiotelephony Contact

(1) Radio contact shall be established as follows – Initial Call:
1. Call sign of the radio station to be addressed;
2. Call sign of the calling radio station.
1. Call sign of the radio station to be addressed;
2. Call sign of the replying radio station.
(2) If it can be expected that the radio station called receives the call, a message may be sent immediately after the initial call. For VFR flights this procedure may only be applied if air traffic control requests the aircraft to change frequency.

(Source: AIP ED GEN 3.4)

If you were the host, you would probably get as far as Frank being a flight engineer and having arrived by bus, but the rest would have been drowned in the flood of information provided. Controllers are humans, too, so without being prepared for this flood of information, the controller would reach his attention limit pretty soon on such an initial call and would have to ask again. Remember that we want to limit frequency time and make things as brief and precise as possible.

This is probably the reason why every AIP, AIM or other aviation document has a short introduction on how to establish radio contact and which format to follow. Your mileage in different countries may vary, however let’s use Germany’s AIP as a reference to conduct a proper aviation handshake:

A: Langen Information, DEPIA.
F: DEPIA, Langen Information.

Now that we have properly shaken hands and introduced each other, we can start with the rest of the call to get further acquainted. Well, the controller will not really provide more information about him, but he still wants to know who we are and what we have planned:

A: DEPIA, C172, VFR from Dortmund to Wilhelmshaven, 5nm north-west Dortmund VOR, 2300ft, request traffic information.
F: DEPIA, Identified, Squawk 3704, QNH Dortmund 1009.

We are done! We have done a proper handshake with the controller, he knows who we are, where we are and what our intentions are. From here on, we can expect traffic information about known traffic and information about active restricted areas, parachute jumper drop activity and useful information for our journey to Wilhelmshaven. We mentioned earlier that pilots and controllers have this urge to keep transmissions brief and precise? There is an excellent opportunity here for pilots to combine the initial call with a radio check and save valuable seconds of frequency time. If you are calling in on an AFIS or ATC frequency on the ground before having started the flight, you can check your equipment while shaking hands:

A: Langen Information, DEPIA, radio check?
F: DEPIA, Langen Information, read you 51.

We are done for today, we have properly introduced ourselves and are starting to get used to each other. Thanks for reading so far and see you next time, when we take a look at phraseology and voice communications.

1: I guess you had already wondered why the series are called Read you 5? The ICAO folks will use a different way to express readability over radio than loud and clear or the also common read you 5 by 5. The ICAO folks will use the values 1 (unreadable) to 5 (perfectly readable) to evaluate readability, thus hopefully making this blog: 5 – perfectly readable.

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