Traffic Pattern Calls: TMI

Lately, it seems that I hear many pilots at nontowered airports announcing their intentions like this:

Generic Traffic, Cessna 123A, 8 miles to the south, setting up for a 45 to the downwind, runway 27. Generic.

Or:

Generic Traffic, Cessna 123A on the downwind for base, runway 27. Generic.

Radio calls that include two or more legs of the traffic pattern grate on the ear (almost as much as “Any traffic in the area…“). More importantly, they could easily confuse other pilots, especially when the CTAF is busy and transmissions are cut off or lost in the static of multiple position reports:

Did that Cessna say, “On the 45” or “On downwind?”

Perhaps my noticing such CTAF calls is an example of the frequency illusion called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon:

Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, or Baader-Meinhof effect, is when your awareness of something increases. This leads you to believe it’s actually happening more, even if that’s not the case.

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Whatever the actual frequency of the announcements, they don’t help. When transmitting your position and intentions, provide the essential information, not a detailed description of your plan. For example, I teach this sequence of calls on the CTAF:

Podunk Traffic, Cessna 123A, one-zero miles south, planning left/right traffic runway 27. Podunk.

Podunk Traffic, Cessna 123A, on the 45, left/right traffic, runway 27. Podunk.

Podunk Traffic, Cessna 123A, [turning] left/right downwind runway 27 [full stop/touch and go]. Podunk.

Podunk Traffic, Cessna 123A, [turning] final runway 27 [full stop/touch and go]. Podunk.

Stating the direction of the traffic pattern (left or right) is especially important at airports with non-standard patterns or parallel or intersecting runways. It’s also helpful to tell other pilots that you’re planning a touch-and-go, full-stop, stop-and-go, or low approach.

AC 90-66B: Non-Towered Airport Flight Operations provides more details about this topic, and AIM 4-1-9, Traffic Advisory Practices at Airports Without Operating Control Towers includes additional specific examples such as:

Strawn traffic, Apache Two Two Five Zulu, (position), (altitude), (descending) or entering downwind/base/final (as appropriate) runway one seven full stop, touch−and−go, Strawn.

Note the forward slashes: downwind/base/final as in “downwind or base or final.”

And as for “Any traffic…please advise,” see both the AIM and the AC:

Pilots stating, “Traffic in the area, please advise” is not a recognized Self−Announce Position and/or Intention phrase and should not be used under any condition. (AIM)

Note: Pilots are reminded that the use of the phrase, “ANY TRAFFIC IN THE AREA, PLEASE ADVISE,” is not a recognized self-announce position and/or intention phrase and should not be used under any condition. Any traffic that is present at the time of your self-announcement that is capable of radio communications should reply without being prompted to do so. (AC 90-66B)

For more details, see Operations at Non-Towered Airports.

4 Responses to Traffic Pattern Calls: TMI

  1. Chris C Bowman says:

    Thanks for posting on com at uncontrolled fields. I usually initially just say “10 miles south, inbound, landing 26”. I will try using “10 miles south, planning left traffic 26”. This issue becomes so apparent after spending a hour or two communicating on an IFR cross country and then switching frequencies to an uncontrolled field. The clutter of overlapping calls and extraneous not useful/confusing info can be frustrating. Thanks for highlighting the problem of too much info…45 to left downwind 26. I am probably guilty of some of that…will check my calls for this.

    I too often hear at my home airport as a first call into a busy traffic pattern “on a 1 mile initial” or no calls then just “on the break”. I guess it is their legal right to put on a mini airshow for the airport restaurant customers. In this case I generally leave the area in good direction, even if I am already well into the pattern. I guess they do not really need to make any calls or even have a radio….as long as nobody gets hurt. My guess is that most pilots have no idea what to expect from the call “on the break”. No problem if there are no other airplanes in the area.

    Also I try to always remember that at some uncontrolled fields ADSB is not required and radios are not required. Remember to look out the window!

    • bruceair says:

      The updated AC 90-66B mentions overhead approaches in paragraph 9.9.3: An overhead approach is normally performed by aerobatic or high-performance aircraft and involves a quick 180-degree turn and descent at the approach end of the runway before turning to land (described in the AIM, paragraph 5-4-27, Overhead Approach Maneuvers). I know that formation flights irk many pilots, but the overhead entry that begins at the “initial” (i.e., a straight-in) is actually the safest, most efficient way to land a formation. But formation pilots could do a better job of explaining what they’re doing.

      https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/advisory_circulars/index.cfm/go/document.information/documentid/1032988

  2. Dean Johnson says:

    I fly frequently to/from KHWV — a very busy GA airport. I try to model your recommendations contained in the article. Well done.

    I would love your insight on call signs versus aircraft descriptions. I must admit that every time I hear, “White Skyhawk turning left base” I am confounded because 85% of the Skyhawks are white AND I have their registration number on ADS-B on my iPad. Isn’t it time to retire this quaint practice of using descriptions and going with registration numbers?

    BTW, I love your work and appreciate your putting it out there. I am a CFII always wanting to learn and your blog is a welcome because (i) it is not a quiz and (ii) it is pithy.

    • bruceair says:

      Thank you. To your question about using type and color when making position reports: See AC 90-66B Non-Towered Airport Flight Operations. That AC notes:

      10.3.1 Self-announce transmissions may include aircraft type to aid in identification and detection, but should not use paint schemes or color descriptions to replace the use of the aircraft call sign. For example, “MIDWEST TRAFFIC, TWIN COMMANDER FIVE ONE ROMEO FOXTROT TEN MILES NORTHEAST” or “MIDWEST TRAFFIC, FIVE ONE ROMEO FOXTROT TWIN COMMANDER TEN MILES NORTHEAST,” not “MIDWEST TRAFFIC, BLUE AND WHITE TWIN COMMANDER TEN MILES NORTHEAST.”

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