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How is Communication in Commercial Airplanes Done?

written by: Raunekk•edited by: Jason C. Chavis•updated: 5/20/2011

Efficient communication between the pilot and ground staff is the key factor towards safe flying of aircraft. How is commercial flight communication done and what systems are used? Find the answer to these questions and to many more in this article.

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    In the aviation industry, every piece of information plays a crucial role. It is the lifeline which keeps aircraft moving and the world from standing still. Identified as the aircraft radio communication system, the airplane communication scheme links the pilots in the planes to the control tower on the ground for the smooth flow of flights. The system utilizes a communication network known as air-band or Very High Frequency (VHF), supporting radio navigation of the flights. The entire system is so designed that it mitigates loopholes or mistakes from occurring while flying an airplane, for a single blunder can cost lives of hundreds of people. The course of transmitting information in aviation is usually between pilots and controllers but sometimes it’s even between other ground departments for feedback and information. The latter is when pilots correspond with fixed base operation (FBO) to gather weather reports, runway situation or other related jobs. The article explains the commercial flight communication and its importance.

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    Image Credits : Flight communication from riteraviation website (

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    How is Aircraft Communication Done?

    Entire aviation radio communication is carried out on the aircraft-band of frequencies that ranges from 118.000 MHz to 135.975 MHz (megahertz). The radio operates on simplex system which allows only one person to talk each time. For initiating a conversation, a microphone is attached first to the system and then the person starts talking by pressing a button. After this, the user releases the button and the listener waits till the transmitting is done and then replies in the same way. If in case, both speak at the same time, the signal gets blocked and no information is transferred. During emergency, international distress frequency of 121.5 or 243 MHz is utilized to transmit information for immediate attention. Some radio conversations are also recorded for future reference for pilots. Towered airports provide Automated Terminal Information Service (ATIS) with up-to-date information. Weather reports by computer can be received at most of the towered as well as un-towered airports through radio or telephone. This is how commercial flight communication is done.

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    Understanding Radio communication

    A two-way radio enables connection between pilots and air traffic controllers. All round the globe, the entire communication is to be done in a single language, i.e. English. However, it may happen that small unskilled air-fields are short of knowledge of English language, and this is when the language rule becomes an exception and the local language is used to pass on important information. Nevertheless, there is specific terminology such as acronyms and special terms which are used to avoid miscommunication. For instance, those at the control tower must know the meaning of Above Ground Level (AGL) which means the distance between the aircraft and the ground or in other words radar altitude. Unacquainted control towers may create a blunder in such situations. While communicating via radio, there are chances that a piece of information is wrongly communicated. Radio beacons possess a 3-letter identifier, a special radio language, which is used by the pilots and controllers to give names for this beacon. To avoid confusion, radio alphabets have been developed where ‘A’ becomes Alpha, ‘B’ becomes Bravo, ‘C’ becomes Charlie and so on. This is done to evade ambiguity between same sounding letters like ‘B’, ‘D’, ‘E’ and such others.

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    The Radio communication Language

    The radio also works in a typical manner. Every airport has its own unique frequency; the number of frequencies depends on the size of the airport. Larger airports have more than one frequency, different for each approaching plane, those who are near the airport and those that are stationed at the airport. In an event where pilots want to convey a message to the controllers, they set their radios to the unique airport frequency, allowing the person on the ground to receive the message on this frequency. This is done to avert excess air traffic. After the conversation is done, the pilot signals the controller about his exit from the frequency and in the case of a need to talk to another person on some other frequency, he repeats the same procedure. The actual conversation between the pilot and controller begins with the pilot who introduces himself followed by his location, altitude and finally his message. For instance, the pilot will say something like, “Middletown Tower, this is U – DEFG, at hangar 1, weather report". The message means that this is the airplane with registration U – DEFG at a particular location and is asking for current weather situation. The controller may reply as “U – DEFG, clear weather".

    In all, there’s so much thought and terminology applied to making an aircraft conversation seem like a simple and useful one. Commercial flight communication language is therefore an extremely interesting and useful trait in the aviation industry, which is still used by airplanes around the world. The unique features of the information exchange of the airlines in different countries ensures the safety and security of flights no matter where they take place.

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