November 10, 2022

Aviation English: 10 Basic Aviation Terms Every Pilot Should Know

Brushing up on your aviation English? We’ve compiled 10 basic aviation terms that every pilot should know. Aviation English is the international language used by members of civil aviation across the world. If you aim to communicate effectively, you’ll need to use clear, concise language to coordinate with controllers and other pilots.

1. The ICAO Alphabet/International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet

The first on our Aviation English list is the alphabet itself. You can use this internationally-used phonetic alphabet to communicate efficiently and avoid misunderstandings between pilots and tower operators.

Let’s improve your Aviation English right now. The ICAO phonetic alphabet includes code words assigned to the entire 26 letters of the alphabet. Here’s the list so that you can practice:

Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliett, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-ray, Yankee, Zulu.

2. Air Traffic Control

Air Traffic Control is a vital team of aviation specialists who monitor and manage aviation traffic. This includes all active aviation traffic – ground, inbound and departure. Air traffic controllers have a primary role in managing safe and orderly traffic flow inside and between airports.

There are three categories of air traffic controllers who work cooperatively to achieve this: tower controllers, terminal controllers and en route controllers. To help them do their job, it’s vital that pilots have clear, concise and confident communication skills in Aviation English.

3. Circuit

A circuit refers to the arrival and departure procedures of an airport or aerodrome. The circuit itself includes a take-off leg, a crosswind leg (perpendicular to the runway), a downwind leg (parallel to the runway), a base leg and then the final leg. The En Route Supplement Australia (ERSA), developed by Airservices Australia, is a primary source of information on airport procedures in circuits (or ‘in pattern’). Upon arrival, departure or inside the circuit, clear aviation English is paramount to safe and efficient flying.

4. Approach

The approach of an aircraft is the process and patterns within which the pilot manoeuvres the aircraft in anticipation of landing at its destination. An aircraft’s approach can be achieved through Visual Flight Rules (VFR) or Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). On approach, you follow a series of predetermined waypoints and altitudes to oversee the safe arrival on the destination runway.

5. Final Approach

A final approach is the last ‘leg’ of flight, generally before landing on the designated runway. The final approach may be a ‘straight in’ approach from a multi-waypoint inbound flight, or it may be a final approach as a continuation of the base leg in the circuit.

6. Controlled Airspace

Australian airspace architecture works on a system of classes. Classes A, C, D and E are all forms of controlled airspace. These classes are actively monitored and managed by Air Traffic Control (ATC).

As per Airservices Australia:

Class A: A high-level en route controlled airspace is used predominately by commercial and passenger jets. Only  IFR flights are permitted, and they require an ATC clearance. These flights are provided with an air traffic control service and are positively separated from each other.

Class C: This is the controlled airspace surrounding major airports. Both IFR and VFR flights are permitted and must communicate with air traffic control. IFR aircraft are positively separated from both IFR and VFR aircraft. VFR aircraft are provided traffic information on other VFR aircraft.

Class D:  This is the controlled airspace that surrounds general aviation and regional airports equipped with a control tower. All flights require ATC clearance.

Class E: This mid-level en route controlled airspace is open to both IFR and VFR aircraft. IFR flights are required to communicate with ATC and must request ATC clearance.

Class G: This airspace is uncontrolled. Both IFR and VFR aircraft are permitted, and neither requires ATC clearance.

Note: At towered airports, the class of airspace may change subject to the time of day.

7. Go-Around (Go Round)

A go-around is the abortion of an aircraft landing due to unfavourable circumstances. These circumstances could be the result of wind and weather conditions, visibility, aircraft performance or even as a result of an unserviceable runway. Upon closely approaching the runway for landing, a pilot performs a ‘go-around’ by applying power and cancelling the landing by continuing to fly another circuit for another attempt.

8. Visual Flight Rules (VFR)

Visual Flight Rules (VFR) include flights in conditions where the pilot uses visual references as a primary navigation and control technique for managing the aircraft. These Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) change, subject to the airspace. The Visual Flight Rules Guide by CASA is a useful tool for pilots who are preparing for VFR flights.

9. Instrument Flight Rules (IFR)

When VFR conditions are not met, Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) apply to the pilot and aircraft. Under IFR conditions, the aircraft must be adequately equipped for IFR conditions (Instrument Meteorological Conditions, IMC), and the pilot must have appropriate training and endorsements.

10. Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH)

The Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) is the pilot’s manual for the aircraft and operation. For a pilot looking to maintain skills and knowledge whilst operating the aircraft, the POH is fundamental. It’s a document developed by the aircraft manufacturer with all information considered important for the safe and effective operation of that aircraft.

At a minimum, a typical POH for aircraft will include the following:

  • – General information: An introduction to the POH, definitions and summary of performance specifications (gross weight, top speed, cruise, range, rate of climb, stall speeds, total fuel capacity, total unusable fuel, fuel types and engine power.
  • – Operational Limits: Airspeed limitations, ceiling, flight load factors, prohibited manoeuvres, passenger weight limitations, powerplant limitations, indicator markings etc.
  • – Emergency Procedures: Recommended procedures for fire, electrical failure, voltage regulator failure, malfunctions, emergency landings and unusual flight conditions.
  • – Normal Procedures: Preflight inspection, engine start, taxiing, take-off (normal, obstacle, soft field), climb, cruise, descent and approach, landing (normal, obstacle, balked), shutdown.
  • – Flight Performance: Airspeed calibration, stall speeds, take-off and climb performance, landing performance, cruise performance.
  • – Weight and Balance Equipment List: Operating weights and loading, installed equipment list, sample loading problems, loading graphics, flight envelope.
  • – Description of Aircraft and Systems: Powerplant summary, aircraft specifications, aircraft three view, instrument panel, electrical system, fuel system.
  • – Aircraft Group Handling and Servicing: Torques, fuel, oil, coolant, spark plugs, exhaust, tyres and tubes, wing removal/installation, towing, tie-down, cleaning and care.
  • – Supplements: Additional information, such as a flight training supplement.

The POH will also include contact information for the manufacturer and support, compliance standards (design, construction, airworthiness, POH standard) and a revision summary for the POH.

Every pilot should aim to develop and expand their vocabulary to include commonly-used terminology in the industry and profession.

That’s a wrap! We hope these ’10 basic aviation terms every pilot should know’ are useful in improving your aviation English!

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