CTAF  at Small Airports

The  Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) is used by all aircraft to facilitate cooperation in their use of the airport. These conversations are generally related to the actual takeoff and/or landing of aircraft, but special activities close to the airport such as ballooning, gliding, parachuting or stunt flying will often be accompanied by announcements on this frequency.

How to identify at CTAF transmission:  All CTAF transmissions start with the name of the airport followed by the word "traffic."   Each transmission ends with the name of the airport. A typical example would be, "Hanover Traffic, 567 Echo entering left downwind for Runway 34 Hanover."

Typical CTAF transmissions: Most of what you'll hear at a distance will be aircraft landing. Pilots will intially call when 10 miles out, and when entering the downwind, base and final legs of the traffic pattern. The final transmission will be made from the ground as the aircraft exits the runway.

Other transmissions may be warnings to traffic of other activity. At nearby Louisa airport, you might hear "Louisa Traffic, jumpers away in 2 minutes from 13,500 feet, Louisa." This warns nearby aircraft that there will be a parachute drop shortly.

Analyzing what you hear: Let's look at the sample transmission from Hanover:

Hanover Traffic:  addressing aircraft in the vicinity of Hanover Airport (as opposed to other airports which are on the same frequency and can also hear his transmission)

567 Echo: Aircraft ID. His registration number is N567E.

Entering left downwind: Turning into the downwind leg of a left-hand (counterclockwise) traffic pattern.

for Runway 34: Identifying a runway whose approximate compass bearing is around 340 degrees. (landing in the opposite direction, he would be on runway 16--bearing approx. 160 degrees)

Hanover: Repeating the ID of Hanover airport. Aircraft on the same frequency at nearby Louisa and Petersburg airports appreciate this reminder that this transmission doesn't involve their airport.

Helpful Reading: Obviously, some technical knowledge is needed to understand what you're hearing. The best source is the Airman's Information Manual. You can learn about traffic patterns in its section on Airport Operations. This book is sold at most airport FBO's and is published by Tab and sold in the larger bookstores as AIM/FAR. (Airmans Information Manual/Federal Aviation Regulations). It is updated yearly.

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