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Aviation Speak

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Aviation communications can be thought of short, mundane transmissions that doesn't make a lot of sense to the lay person. However, these communications are part of an integrated air traffic control system that is important to the safety of aircraft pilots and passengers.

The many facets of ATC
There is a lot of misconception about ATC communications. First, an aircraft is not guided by the 'control tower' from point-to-point, rather there are a series of ATC controllers working in all aspects which make up the entire "system."

Controlled Airports
Honolulu International Airport on the island of Oahu is the only controlled airport in Hawaii manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While certain services like clearance delivery and ground control can be consolidated during the late evening/early morning hours, Honolulu Tower and the Honolulu Control Facility (HCF) is always manned, due to the nature and scope of operations at the Honolulu International Airport.

Other major commercial airports in Hawaii, Hilo (ITO), Kona (KOA), Kahului (OGG), Lihue (LIH), and Molokai (MKK) have "part-time" towers, usually operating from 0600 local time to early to late evening, depending on the airport. When the local tower is not in operation, all pilots will tune to the tower frequency to activate airfield lightning, and advise other aircraft in the area of their intentions.

Non-Controlled Airports
Airfields with no control tower facilities are considered non-controlled airports. At these airports, pilots tune to a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF), usually 122.9 in which pilots declare their intentions and activate airfield lighting, if necessary. Local tower frequency is often used as a CTAF when the control tower is not in operation.

Air Traffic Control Divisions

ATIS - Automated Terminal Information Service is a coded message regarding the airport in question. The current weather, runways/approaches in use, and any pertinent NOTAMs, AIRMETs, and SIGMETs are continuously broadcast.

An example ATIS broadcast for Honolulu Airport would be;

Honolulu International Airport information Echo, 1253 zulu. Wind 060 at 10 visibility 10. Few clouds 2,500 scattered, 3,500 scattered, 5,000 broken, 8,000 overcast. Temperature 23, dew point 17, altimeter 2995. Landing and departing runways 4 and 8, expect ILS or Visual Approach. Notices to Airmen: Taxiway Bravo closed between Taxiway Romeo-Bravo and Taxiway Golf. Advise on initial contact you have information Echo.

Clearance Delivery - The responsibility for this controller is the safe and expedited flow for all IFR departures using standard IFR routing out of the terminal control area (local tower). In Hawaii, unlike other places, has standard abbreviated routings, so there would be limited need to make mention of specific jet or victor routes in the clearance message:

An example of an enroute clearance message for Northwest 808 to Minneapolis Airport:

HNL Clearance: Northwest 808 heavy is cleared to the Minneapolis Airport via the Molokai Four Departure, Cluts transition as filed. After departure, turn right heading 155, climb and maintain 5,000 and expect flight level 350 after departure. Departure frequency 124.8, squawk 1732.

Ground Control - The primary responsibility of the ground controller is to coordinate the safe movement of aircraft on the ramp and taxiways.

An example of a ground control message for United 879 to Narita Airport

HNL Ground: United 879, taxi to Runway 8R via Taxiway Zulu, Alpha and Romeo-Bravo. Hold-short of Runway 8 Left and monitor tower on 118.1. (Runway crossing restrictions are common at HNL as Runway 8 Left is the main arrival runway for heavy jets)

Tower - Local controller coordinates the movement of aircraft landing and departing the active runways. Local control assumes responsibility for airspace out to 5 miles from the airport.

Departure Control - Separates departing traffic from arrivals and other traffic by way of altitude and/or speed restrictions, and clears aircraft to their initial enroute waypoint.

Approach Control - Separates arriving traffic from departures and other traffic by way of altitude and/or speed restrictions; their main job is to space traffic to minimize traffic conflicts, and to line them up onto the final approach course before handing the control of the aircraft to the tower.

Center - The Air Route Traffic Control Center handles the enroute portion of the flight. The center consists of several sectors defining a specific control area (horizontally), and then separated vertically into two sectors: the low-altitude sector (up to 18,000 feet), and the high-altitude sector (between 18,000 and 60,000 feet). This is where commercial jets fly, and air traffic controllers will use the term "Flight Levels" instead of the actual altitude: FL190 for 19,000 feet.

NOTE: Honolulu Approach/Departure, Honolulu Center, and Maui Approach/Departure merged into a single control facility in 2002. All frequencies remain the same, except that the radio callsign for these sectors are now addressed as "HCF Approach".

Copyright 2000-2009
Webguy: David J. Cabatu, AH7E
Updated: 11.23.2008 at 4:00 p.m.