Operating at towered and non-towered airports is important for pilot proficiency, courtesy to other pilots and most importantly SAFETY. One of the problems I have found training at an uncontrolled airport is high time ATP pilots who have been operating IFR and with control towers for years where they are told what to do and follow directions. This is a skill in itself. However, when they get into a new environment of an uncontrolled airport they have not learned how to self announce and keep track of other aircraft. Here you are not following ATC directions, you are communicating and determining your own paths, decisions and separation with other aircraft. This becomes especially challenging when dealing with slower LSA they have never had experience with.

The following downloadable chapter describes the basic principles of airport patterns and operating with slower LSA.

Basic Communications Tips

  • Listen before you transmit so as not to interrupt active communications. Many times you can get the information you need by just listening to others on the appropriate frequency.
  • Think about what you are going to say before transmitting.
  • Push the transmit button, then start talking and speak clearly at a moderate rate.
  • Be as brief as possible, no unnecessary phrases/words such as “this is”, “we are”, about”, “approximately”. These provide no additional information and sound unprofessional.
  • If you are significantly slow, state your speed during your initial transmissions.
  • If you are slow and doing a smaller pattern, announce “tight pattern” (or “inside pattern”) so other aircraft will know you are flying a smaller pattern close to the runway.
  • If you have the endorsement to fly in Class B, C, or D airspace, use the procedures outlined in AIM Chapter 4, Section 2. Initial report with full N number.
  • Since other airports may be using the same frequency, state the airport at the beginning and end of each transmission so there is no confusion for the airport you are at.
  • You generally broadcast position at self-announce airports when inbound to the airport (initial contact 10 miles out and position at 5 miles out), starting your 45 entry leg to airport, midfield downwind, base, and final.
  • Exiting the airport it would be taxiing to runway, entering runway, turning crosswind and position and intentions exiting the pattern.
  • At nontowered airports the N number is not required and if you are a unique type of aircraft the N number can be shortened or eliminated to keep transmissions short. Many times the type of aircraft is more helpful so you know what it is and how fast it is and what it looks like. Experimental is commonly used but does little to help identify your type. If you are not the only type of similar aircraft than the last three alpha numeric’s of N number should be used to differentiate between the similar types of aircraft.
  • Abbreviated aircraft type/ID can be used as long as you are clear as to that you are so others can identify you visually and by type/ID.
  • Generally the more crowded the pattern, the more points within to pattern you want to announce so everyone knows where you are.
  • Best to announce “turning” crosswind, downwind, base or final because it is easiest for other aircraft to see you when you are turning.