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CTAF Radio Calls

CTAF Radio Calls

In this topic, we are going to cover primarily how to talk on the radio at a non-towered airport, although much of the basic phraseology is interchangeable between talking to ATC and simply “self-announcing”.

Watch the video above for examples of calls to make in the traffic pattern at a non-towered airport.  Remember: the base of the call will remain the same every time you make a call, all you have to think about changing is the “where you are/what you want to do” part of the call.

The Four Parts of a Radio Call

The four parts of any radio call are:

  • Who you are calling
  • Who you are
  • Where you are
  • What you want to do

(the fifth part that only applies to making calls at a non-towered airport) : WHO YOU CALLED


Ex. “Venice Traffic, Cessna one two three Alpha Bravo, 10 miles south of Venice Airport, inbound landing, Venice Traffic”


While we say every radio call only has four parts, the first part gets repeated at non-towered airports just so it is clear what non-towered airport you are actually talking about.  When you are out there flying, you will find many non-towered airports share the same frequency and are relatively close to each other, thus you have to be clear about what airport you are referencing when you make your call, otherwise other pilots may think you are at an airport 40 miles away and not near the same one they are at.


When talking with ATC, your radio calls will only have FOUR parts.  We’ll talk A LOT more about talking to ATC later in this course.




  • Listen before you transmit. If you have just changed frequencies; pause, listen and make sure the frequency is clear before keying the microphone. If you key the mic while someone else is transmitting, you’ll jam up the frequency, most likely requiring the pilot originally transmitting to repeat their transmission.
  • Think before keying the transmitter. Know what you’re going to say before you say it. If it is lengthy, jolt it down on a notepad prior to making the call.
  • Keep the microphone close to your mouth. You should be able to “kiss the microphone”.
  • When you key the mic to transmit, pause for approximately one second before starting your transmission. This will ensure your transmission goes through in its entirety and doesn’t start broken. Be clear, concise, accurate, and speak in a normal tone.
  • At non-towered airports, there is a possibility of no radio or “NORDO” traffic. These are aircraft either not equipped with, or not transmitting on, the radio. There is no substitute for staying alert and keeping your head on a swivel when approaching and operating at a non-towered airport.
  • Many airports have pilot-controlled-lighting, or “PCL”. These are lights that can be activated and sometimes adjusted in intensity, by the keying of the microphone. We’ll dive into this more later, but for now, know that keying the microphone seven times in a five-second window will activate PCL, if the airfield is so equipped.