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November 09, 2022
Have you ever needed to talk to ATC but had to wait in line because another pilot was asking the controller to, “say again?”
While there are numerous aviation phraseology examples that are common, “say again” is one that can be frustrating to hear. However, if you have been a pilot for any length of time, odds are you have either spoken these words yourself or heard them from ATC (probably more than once).
The FAA pilot/controller glossary defines the phrase “say again” in the following manner: “Used to request a repeat of the last transmission. Usually specifies a transmission or portion thereof not understood or received; e.g., ‘Say again all after ABRAM VOR.’”
Read on to understand why you may hear this phrase and even some tips on how to decrease your need to use it yourself.
There is more than one reason you could need to request a repeat of the last transmission.
Here are 6 of the most common situations that prompt a communications breakdown and spur the need for a pilot to use “say again.”
It is no secret that some controllers speak more rapidly than others, especially when they are extremely busy and overtasked. If the controller is juggling many aircraft or is repeating a common set of instructions, they may speak too quickly for the pilot to keep up.
Yikes. Aviation phraseology and terminology are standardized for a reason. The goal is to ensure that both controller and pilot give the same meaning to what has been said. If either party goes off script, there is a greater chance of misunderstanding and a need for clarification.
Radio comms are a lot easier when you are flying into and out of your home airport.
You are already familiar with the layout, taxi routes, frequencies, common ATC instructions, and even usual aviation terminology abbreviations that are used at your home airport. On the other hand, when you fly somewhere new, it is easy to get tangled up with new approaches and complex taxi routes.
To understand the controller, you need a quiet cockpit, free from the distractions of other conversations. If a passenger is chatting your ear off, it is easy to miss a key piece of an ATC transmission.
We’ve all done this! Before you can understand a radio transmission, you must first hear it. One of the more embarrassing pilot communication mistakes is accidentally turning the radio volume down too low.
When we are first starting out, we are all “consciously competent” pilots needing intense focus to manage the multitasking necessary for piloting an aircraft.
As we gain more experience, we build our skills, and juggling all the demands of flying gets easier.
The same is true if we have had a long break from flying. It is not always like riding a bike in this case, and a pilot can get rusty after time off. When we first climb back in the cockpit, we are more likely to need the controller to “say again” than we are after we have logged some hours and built our skills back up.
“Say again” is not a phrase reserved solely for pilots to use. You may also hear it directed to you from ATC for similar reasons like:
In all the above cases, you are probably setting yourself up for a “say again” response.
Although odds are we will all need to use “say again” at some point, there is good news. It is within your power to improve your ATC communication and decrease the need for “say again.”
Take the following actions to help lower the chances:
Unlike fellow pilots, your passengers are not trained in aviation communications.
They may not realize that their casual conversation during an ATC radio transmission can be distracting and prevent you from understanding the call. During your preflight brief, explain the importance of clear radio communications and ask everyone to stop talking when you are on the radio.
How many times have you or someone you know missed a call from ATC or repeated your own call because you thought the controller didn’t hear you, only to realize later that the radio’s volume was set too low?
This is one of the most embarrassing but also the most easily preventable radio faux pas a pilot can experience. To fix the problem, ensure a volume setting check is part of your preflight.
You can also make it a habit to confirm the radio volume setting prior to transmission and before repeating a radio transmission that you think went unanswered.
Some cockpits are louder than others, and besides being bad for your hearing, the extra ambient noise can impact your radio communication as well.
To offset the impact of noise on your comms, invest in a higher-end over-ear active noise reduction (ANR) headset.
This style of headset will provide the maximum level of noise reduction.
Pro Tip: Look for a headset with an electret-style boom mic for the clearest audio transmissions.
It is no secret that the more comfortable you are understanding and using aviation communication words and phrases, the easier it is to make and receive radio calls. The goal is to gain a level of competence that doesn’t require you to consciously decipher the meaning of a received message or spend minutes determining how to reply.
The best way to improve radio communication skills is to practice, and the easiest way to practice is with an app that you can take anywhere. The ARSim Aviation Radio Simulator app is available for both Android and Apple devices.
The interactive, self-guided learning style coaches you through task-based scenarios and gives feedback on your practice comms. It even analyzes speech rate and phraseology choices to provide corrections as needed. Train with thousands of scenarios at over 300 airports and airspaces, all from the comfort of home.
ARSim is available for download on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store and can also be accessed on the web.
Lastly, as you practice and build up your aviation communication proficiency, the words and aviation phrases needed for each transmission will come naturally. Until then, quickly rehearse the message in your head before making contact. As the old saying goes, it is “push to speak, not push to think.”
Remember, asking the controller to “say again” when you are unclear on their last transmission makes you a good pilot, not a bad one.
Your response of “say again” indicates you are not afraid to admit that you either didn’t hear or didn’t understand what was said. Rather than hide behind a fear of looking or sounding like you don’t know what you are doing in the cockpit, your “say again” demonstrates your confidence in flying the airplane.
You are aware of the potentially serious safety consequences of miscommunication and are going to seek clarification whenever needed. By valuing safety over pride, you demonstrate one of the hallmarks of a good pilot.
But if you want to avoid this potential issue, PlaneEnglish’s ARSim Aviation Radio Simulator can give you the practice you need to excel in all radio comms, not just helping you avoid needing to “say again.”
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PlaneEnglish created this blog to provide aspiring and current pilots a resource for all things related to aviation radio communication.
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