Talking with ATC

I’m currently a student pilot with 14.1 hours, and my instructor pointed out that every time I talk with ATC, I say things in different orders almost every time. For example, sometimes I’ll say, “Cleared for takeoff, runway 24, Cessna 49285”, and sometimes I’ll say “Cessna 49285, cleared for takeoff, runway 24”. I do this subconsciously; I don’t actively try and switch it up.
I was wondering is this was okay as long as I got the correct information across, or if I should try developing saying things in the correct order according to proper etiquette. Honestly it’s going to be a bit challenging for me because that’s how my brain works; it wants to process information and do it correctly (correct information) rather than perfectly (correct info + order).

Your fine. The General Idea is:
Pilot Calling tower =“ Tower, Cessna N49258 holding short RW24 ready for departure ”
Pilot Responding to Tower = “Clear for Takeoff RW24, Cessna N49258”

ATC says stuff in different orders all the time and pilots read back slightly different many times. Practice out loud in the car or at home. Not the end of the world as long as correct info is passed along.

If it makes you feel better, I’m 2500hrs & forgot to readback the Runway I was cleared for takeoff the other week & today my Capt handed out chiropractor gift cards after his “firm landing” haha.
We all make mistakes, key is to debrief and learn from them.

Fly safe & have fun,
Chris F

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thank you so much for your reply! I’ll keep all that in mind:)

You are still so new with only 14 hours! Don’t worry, you’re getting your point across right now. The more time you practice, the better you’ll get! If you want to listen to live ATC, that seems to help but for now, don’t stress! It’s like learning a new language. It will come:)


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Definitely not a problem and this is actually quite common. What you heard last you repeat first. As long as all the information is correct and complete you’re all good.

What you do want to be cognizant of is if/when you make to an airline, when it comes to crew callouts, proper, correct and exact verbage is essential. I’m the king of paraphrasing and it’s really something I’ve had some issues with. The words must be specific and exact. Nothing to be concerned with but something you might want to work on.


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When ATC issues more than one clearance in the same transmission it can be difficult to read it back exactly how they said it.

For both me and my students I remember instrument approach clearances were the hardest: “turn right/left heading ___, maintain ___ until established, cleared ___ approach.” This is three in one. In my opinion, as long as you read back the three key clearances (in this case heading, altitude and cleared approach) that is acceptable.

The one caveat I have is no matter what order you readback a clearance, the tail number should be at the end of your transmission just like how we sign our names at the end of a letter, but to be clear that’s getting more into etiquette.

Of course, the rules are different on initial contact. On initial contact you are supposed to start with who you are addressing, then your call sign, then your request.


I am going to diverge a bit from my peers here, with the warning that I am huge stickler for radio communications.

Your aircraft number needs to be at the end, not the front, of anything you read back. If you put your callsign at the front of a read back, it sounds like an instruction from the tower to you. This is not a matter of etiquette, it is how we tell if a transmission is an instruction or a read back.

The order does matter because often times ATC will issue instructions in the order they want you to do things. Example: “United 232, slow to 250 kts, then descend and maintain 5,000”. There is clearly an order to what ATC is asking of the pilots in that scenario.

An even simpler example is taxing. Say you land and ATC says: “United 232, taxi to the Northports via T10, A9, and B.” Those taxiways need to be followed in precisely that order, so the instructions need to be read back in that order.

When you start flying to Europe you will find that the oceanic and European controllers are even more precise in their radio procedures and expect the same of us.

Now at 14 hours, this is not a big deal. But you do need to work on reading things back in the order they were issued to you, with your call sign at the end.



From the ICAO Standard Phraseology Reference Guide:

  • When a read-back is required ensure it is complete and in the order given.

Check out that link, it shows exactly how airline pilots are expected to speak on the radio.

Chris, I agree. I would not argue against your examples.


Chris then you better not fly out here in Hawaii. The controllers speak worse than the pilots do :wink:


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Great message and points Chris! And thanks for the great link…very useful information in there, and a fun read.



I would encourage you to read through that ICAO guide and learn to speak exactly the way it recommends, with the few exceptions that we make in the US, such as reading back flight numbers in pairs instead of individually.

Example for United flight 2634:

US: “United twenty-six, thirty four”
ICAO: “United two, six, three, four”


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Hi Chris,

Just curious, how would you say United 2939 in pairs? Twenty-nine Thirty-nine? Or Twenty-Niner Thirty-Niner? Not poking fun, genuinely curious. I sometimes listen to LiveATC at my home airport for practice and people say all kinds of stuff (mostly on the GA side not the the airliners) when reading their tail numbers. The most memorable is a guy who has 777 in his tail number and he insists on calling himself “triple 7 something something”. Also I don’t think I’ve ever heard any pilot actually say “tree” or “fife”, do we get a pass on that because we are native English speakers or do pilots just feel kind of silly saying “tree”?



Good question and this is where I have to admit to not following the rules as closely as I should. I do hear airline pilots say “tree, fife and niner”. I would say that “niner” is pretty widely spoken, particularly I regards to altitude assignments, headings, and frequency changes. In the case of United 2939, I think most of us would say: “United twenty-nine, thirty-nine”, which is of course incorrect, but the other way just does not flow. I almost never hear “tree” and “fife”. I think most of us skip over it because it does sound silly, but there must be a reason for it.


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I am also a student pilot with around 70 hours. (Checkride scheduled in 2 weeks!) believe it or not, I still say stuff in random order back to ATC. The point is really, to repeat everything that they tell you. With time, maybe that will fix itself, but again I don’t necessarily think it’s a “bad” thing.

In fact, just yesterday I had a flight lesson where I heard ATC say something wrong. I was doing touch and goes and ATC said “cleared for touch and goes runway 30 N - - - - -“ I said, “actually this is my last one and will be full stop” ATC replied “okay cleared to land” They did not say my runway, nor N number.

Basically everyone makes mistakes but like I’ve said saying stuff in different order, like you’ve said, is not a problem.

Obviously make sure you read taxi assignments in the correct order :slight_smile:

From the AIM:
“Acknowledge with your aircraft identification, either at the beginning or at the end of your transmission”.

Clearly the order isn’t that important.