Learning to talk on an aviation radio is more of an art instead of an exact science that may take a bit of time to perfect. While anyone can give all the required information with enough time, the art is in conveying this information in as few words and as quickly as possible. This is important because you are unlikely to be the only person trying to communicate with the controller.
However, don’t fall into the trap thinking that brevity is necessarily the most important part of communication. If the controller spends time asking you for more detail, this defeats the point.
So, how do you strike the right balance? Well, with enough study and practice you will soon communicate like a seasoned pro. A couple of great resources are the The Pilot’s Radio Communications Handbook and Aviation Radio Communications Made Easy.
In the meantime, here are some useful tips.
Learn the Language
Your first port of call is learning to use the right words. Aviation uses a very specific language that will be new to you when starting out. Don’t worry about phraseology and trying to be as brief as possible at first. Just learn the right words and things like your technique, contact procedures, phraseology and overall vocabulary will improve over time.
As you spend more time learning and practising, you will learn to only repeat key numbers and omit filler words. While great communication is all about brevity, accuracy, and avoiding jargon and chatter, it all begins with getting the fundamentals right.
Review the AIM
The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) is a fantastic reference for radio communications, phraseology, and techniques. It is also the authority for instrument flight rules procedures, given that the AIM is written by the FAA themselves.
Take every single radio call seriously. In your mind you are already a certified, professional pilot who adheres to professional standards, even though this may not be your reality yet. You communicate in a courteous, brief, accurate and professional way at all times.
It may not seem like it when you start out, but flying is highly predictable. With enough time you will soon realise that you’ve practically heard every call you will ever counter, and nothing will surprise you. The same terminology and phraseology is used time and time again that a pilot can more or less anticipate exactly what the controller is going to say next.
Write it Down
It’s a good ideal to get into the practice of writing everything down – at least to begin with. You won’t have to always do this when you make a radio call, but when starting out it’s a terrific way to reinforce your understanding of what you just heard and what you need to do. It also helps to avoid that awkward situation where you ask the controller to repeat themselves.
Once key information is written down, you can speak clearly and confidently without trying to rack your brain to remember what you just heard.
I don’t just mean listen carefully when you’re on a call, which is of course important, but a lot of the time you just have to listen to ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) to get all the information you need.