ATC System & Phraseology Discussion

Lets discuss here what we would like to see regarding the ATC system and ATC phraseology.

My opinion would be to not use “real world” phraseology and copy other people their stupidities and made up phraseology, rather keep it “by the book”. Concise and precise radiotelephony can not be overemphasized in the real world! Lets have it as it should be (ok maybe skip the WUN, TREE, FOWER and AIT :upside_down_face:). Please lets not end up with “with you”, “light chop”, “ready to go” and other nonsense.

For Europe this means ICAO + Eurocontrol recommendations.


ATC Phraseology Mod

I herrie a Mod myself by rewriting the FS2020 text to speech, with this Mod ATC phraseology closely resembles ICAO phraseology (within the limits of the current ATC system), it includes some Eurocontrol recommendations but the overall difference from ICAO are minor.


List of Phraseology Issues

More Information
  • “Ready for take-off” is an absolute no no in aviation, the word take-off is only used in relation to the actual take-off clearance i.e. “cleared for take-off”.
  • Climbs and descends to an altitude or height shall be spoken as: “climb / descent to altitude / height … ft” in relation with flight levels the word TO shall be omitted.
  • There is a lot of plain language used in the default MSFS phraseology, things like “I will contact you when leaving my airspace” should be “report leaving … airspace”, radiotelephony shall be concise and precise and plain language should be avoided where possible. “going to” and “with you” causes itches for everyone on the frequency.
  • “Is going missed”, “missed-approach” and all different forms used in MSFS is really simple in real life → “going around!”.
  • “Flight following” is called “Flight Information Service” elsewhere than US (its not 100% the same but still).
  • Type callsigns are abbreviated as follows: first letter of the registration + last two letters of the registration, not the last three as used in the default MSFS RTF. Example: PH-ABC = PBC. The use of aircraft type or model in the callsign is rarely used in European airspace at least, only if there is chance of callsign confusion may ATC temporarily change the callsign to something like this.
  • IFR clearance request shall consists of: callsign, type, position, ATIS, QNH, flight rules, destination, “request enroute clearance”.
  • The IFR clearance normally consists of a SID and a squawk. The altitude and departure frequency are part of the SID.
  • “Copy”, “copy that”, “ready to copy”, “would like” are meaningless, it is “roger” or “request”
  • On most controlled aerodromes, VFR traffic shall request start-up as follows: callsign, type, position, ATIS, QNH, flight rules, destination, “request start-up” + VFR departure where applicable.
  • VFR departures are not to the “north”, “south” etc. they are via VFR routes and reporting points, although I guess this is difficult to implement.
  • Every initial call after frequency change on ground should include the position of the aircraft, taxiway, parking position, gate, holding point etc.
  • ATC won’t yell at you the moment you touch to vacate when able etc. they should first let you roll out to taxi speed before passing taxi instructions.
  • All the pulp at the end of the ATIS like, “inform you have information …”, “readback instructions” are all meaningless, just cut it out.
  • Although not strictly required, it would be easier to understand if the phrases “degrees” and “knots” where included in the surface wind reports.
  • ATC won’t tell you where the airport is and how many miles in the approach clearance. They assume you know where you are in relation to the airport. They might pass you the track miles to go to plan descent.
  • On uncontrolled VFR airports there normally (in Europe) is a FISO answering the radio, given traffic advise, departure arrival information etc. Not so in MSFS as all uncontrolled aerodromes are completely silent with nobody answering the radio.

List of ATC System Issues

More Information
  • Departure frequency and altitude in IFR clearance is normally part of the Standard Instrument Departure and could therefore be deleted from the IFR en-route clearance provided the departure frequency is correct (it is not always correct at this moment in time), charts are available and departure altitudes are correct. SID included in IFR en-route clearance would solve a lot.
  • No vectors are ever given.
  • The approach clearance is given at a very late stage 20 / 30 nm out usually.
  • For some reason the ATC system prioritizes RNAV and VOR approaches over ILS.
  • Active runway is not always wind related or the actual runway in use in the real world.
  • The altimeter system is US based with the transition altitude set to 18000 ft globally and inHg instead of hPa. It would be really nice to see this fixed including Transition Levels given by ATC and in ATIS broadcasts.
  • Missed approach phraseology should not include published missed approach as this is what you would always fly in real life, ATC should then give vectors / clearance during the final missed-approach phase for a new approach.
  • All calls to ATC on ground should include the current position (gate, parking position, holding point etc.), the position should be restated after every frequency change on ground.
  • Faulty type A callsign abbreviations should be fixed.
  • Frequencies are wrongly abbreviated, 123.450 for example should not be abbreviated as 123.45, only in case of 123.400 for example the last two zeros might be disregarded.
  • VFR messages should include departure and destination airport. Maybe VFR reporting points can be included instead of departure to the North, East, South, West, Straight.
  • Kms instead of miles for visibility in ATIS broadcast in Europe.
  • VFR and IFR flights need start-up clearance.
  • Uncontrolled VFR airports often have a FISO replying to radio messages.
  • Remove the “vacate runway when able” and “turn next taxiway” and replace with proper taxi instructions at taxispeed, or wait until vacated.
  • Delete the “expedite climb / descent” or increase the trigger time and phraseology to “confirm climb / descent …”, “climb / descent now” or “start climb / descent” when climbing or descending at a low rate “expedite climb / descent” is appropriate.
  • Current ATC system does not take into account oxygen requirements above FL100 for unpressurized aircraft.
  • Communication for ground services should not run via ground or tower frequencies, especially those for pushback (except pushback request). Service requests is normally performed via a dedicated ground handling frequency. A ground handling and intercom option would be nice.
  • Ability to tell ATC “unable to comply” with an instruction, weather avoidance, option to declare urgency / emergency / low on fuel & fuel emergency.
  • Option to “Return to Ramp” (RTR) during taxi for take-off.

Ideas, problems, suggestions, questions, drop below in the comments.

Kind regards,

Nijntje

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What would be really good, if possible, would be a true multiplayer ATC, where your flying buddies aircraft are taken into account and you can “hear” their interactions when you are on the same channel.

Also, and I’m probably getting even more enthusiastic here, as a Voiceattack/VAICOM Pro user in DCS, which allows you to use natural language to interact with ATC, which is really immersive in VR, some hooks for 3rd party developers to allow them to do something similar would be nice.

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I would think this can be implemented easily as Windows already has text-to-Speech voice recognition built-in?

I’m sure that a simple menu navigation type approach could be implemented pretty easily, but the VAICOM mod apparently interfaces behind the menu system, which provides it with more opportunity to improve the realism and context.

You have to remember the correct phrases of course and train the speech recognition engine to get to know your voice, especially tough to pronounce place names, but it should be optional and would perhaps provide a better stepping stone for wannabe users of online services like Vatsim, IVAO etc.

Thanks for the excellent and comprehensive list.

Only thing I would add (off the top of my head) would be the ability to request taxi back to gate/parking when taxiing for take off. (probably falls into the category of emergencies / unable requests)

Return to Ramp, that is a good one, I’ll add it.

Hi Nijntje91 - Had a little time to look through your handbook this afternoon. Thanks so much for sharing that excellent document! I’ve been responsible for writing technical design guides and training material (non aviation) … and appreciate just how much work goes into this.

Also for anyone interested, the UK radio bible ‘CAP413’ available online pdf file (just search for CAP413). Another excellent reference. Back in my day, I had to buy a printed copy :slight_smile:

Yes I used CAP413 a lot as reference for this manual. Somethings in CAP413 are a little out dated and specifically for the UK but otherwise its pretty close to ICAO. I wrote this document when I was a flight instructor and giving radiotelephony lessons, recently updated it a little.

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It was said that ATC issues would be fixed in Update 3, but I still see a lot of issues. I am a new MSFS 2020 user, but not a new flightsim user, and I am a real pilot in the US. I realize that there are some differences outside of North America.

  • “Ready for take-off” should be “ready for VFR/IFR departure, runway nn”.
  • Checkin with a new controller should be stated like “Cessna 123SP level eight thousand”, or “level eight thousand five hundred” (“feet” should not be said). Climbs should be reported like “two thousand one hundred climbing six thousand five hundred”. Descents should be reported like “six thousand five hundred descending two thousand”.
  • Going around should be reported as “going around” if VFR or “Going missed” if IFR.
  • Full tail numbers are reported without the first letter on the first contact with a new controller. Thereafter, the last 3 letters/numbers should be used, but only if the controller calls you that way first. ATC may use the full callsign on first contact, but the pilot can omit the first letter in response. If there is a conflict with another aircraft in the area, ATC may use the full callsign without the first letter.
  • IFR clearances are given in the following order following “CRAFT”. Clearance limit, Route, Altitude, departure Frequency and Transponder code. Such as: “N123SP cleared to Philadelphia via (route, initial fix, departure procedure) then as filed, climb and maintain three thousand, expect six thousand in ten minutes, contact departure on 132.8, squawk 2345.” The “route” part can take several forms, including an initial heading and “radar vectors”. If the clearance is being given on the ground from an uncontrolled airport, ATC will say “call for release when ready” and upon release will then give a clearance void time.
  • When reading back a modified heading or altitude change in the air, the only thing the pilot needs to repeat is the heading and the altitude restriction. For example, if ATC says “Cessna 2SP turn right to three two zero, climb and maintain 4 thousand”, the pilot only needs to say “three two zero, 4 thousand”. Altitude restrictions are usually in the form “maintain at or above/below” or just “maintain”, “climb and maintain”, “descend and maintain”, et al.
  • ATC will say “cleared for xyz approach” before the aircraft has reached the start of the approach. Approach will typically handoff to Tower at the Final Approach Fix (FAF). Tower will then say “cleared to land runway x” after the pilot checks in with Tower.

Yes all completely different from ICAO… The US has almost nothing in common with ICAO phraseology and what we use in Europe (close to ICAO with some Eurocontrol recommendations).

There is a question that if it would be an improvement and I think it would not cost so much to modify it and it is the number of times you go through different controllers, I understand that in real life, you go from departures to Center and from there to approach and tower, but there are flights that you run all the drivers on the route.

Yes and to add to that, on the ground you are being bounced to controllers on the same frequency sometimes. Considering an airport with only a tower frequency, you’ll request departure clearance then being “transferred” to ground on the same frequency for taxi (don’t have to request start-up in the Asobo world) and then at the runway being transferred to “tower” which you have been with all along. Those handoffs to different controllers on the same frequency don’t make sense.

To have users on both sides of the pond happy, they must use a regional system. Most of the world is pretty close to standard ICAO phraseology, the US is a noticeable exception. As an example, the proper ICAO / EU phraseology to your examples:

  • “Ready for take-off” should be “Ready for departure” both in VFR and IFR.
  • Checking in with a new controller while IFR: “Callsign, flight level, direct to (waypoint)” under VFR, after initial contact it is depending on the purpose, check-in on tower frequency for landing, requesting flight information service whilst en-route etc. In any case it is "Callsign, type, position, altitude, flight rules, (ATIS if applicable), intentions (CTR crossing, for landing / touch and go / flight information service).
  • In EU / ICAO, you’ll NEVER say a number without an identifier and units. For example, 8000 ft is “ALTITUDE 8000 FT”, FL80 = “FLIGHT LEVEL 80”, Heading 360 = “HEADING 360 DEGREES” (note that degrees after a heading ending with zero is a Eurocontrol recommendation and not standard ICAO phraseology), Speed 180 = “SPEED 180 KTS”.
  • Climbs or descents include the word CLIMB / DESCENT followed by the phrase TO, immediately followed by the phrase ALTITUDE or HEIGHT, in case of flight levels the word TO is omitted. So climb to 5000 ft = “CLIMB TO ALTITUDE 5000 FT”, Climb to FL50 = “CLIMB FLIGHT LEVEL 50”.
  • Going around / missed-approach, either VFR or IFR, in both cases the phraseology is the same “Callsign, GOING AROUND”.
  • In Europe the aircraft model in the ATC callsign is hardly ever used. It is AB-CDE or abbreviated A-DE, no aircraft type or model is ever mentioned. In my whole career I only had it once or twice that ATC temporarily changed our callsign to include the aircraft model to prevent callsign confusion.
  • IFR clearances ICAO: “Callsign, aircraft type, parking position, ATIS, QNH, IFR to …, REQUEST ENROUTE CLEARANCE”, the response should be “CLEARED TO …, … DEPARTURE (SID), SQUAWK …”
  • As before ICAO / EU phraseology always demands an identifier + unit in regard to altitudes, heights, headings, speeds. You never call a random number on the frequency, full readback is always mandatory. Altitude / height = “ALTITUDE / HEIGHT … FT”, Heading = “HEADING … (DEGREES)”, Speed = “SPEED … KTS”, Climb or descent = “CLIMB / DESCENT (TO) ALTITUDE / FLIGHT LEVEL … (FT)” we never use the phrase MAINTAIN.
  • Finally something the same, normally we are asked to call established after which we are transferred to tower, often at or before FAF / FAP.

And then of course, altimeter setting is in hectopascal, transition altitudes are determined per country or there might even be multiple transition altitudes within a county. They go as low as 3000 ft IFR / 3500 ft VFR in the Netherlands to 10.000 ft and above over the Alps and other mountaineous areas.

So yeah, there is no way around it, there are just too many differences in phraseology. The US simmers are not gonna be happy when using standard ICAO phraseology and neither are the EU simmers amused with the current made-up phraseology with US influences :sweat_smile: :joy:.

The bottom line is that ideally, the sim should use the proper terminology for the area of flight, but I doubt that will ever happen. Still, one of the worst problems with the MSFS ATC is that it is too verbose.

You might want to consider a place where you can also vote for this suggestion:

Proper radio communications in multiplayer - Self-Service / Wishlist - Microsoft Flight Simulator Forums

And this one, not directly related but similar in the greater scope of MP communications:

Let us hear each others’ ATC menu communications - Self-Service / Wishlist - Microsoft Flight Simulator Forums

And I can find traces of this compiled into the latest 1.14.5 binaries. To me they are experimenting with this (along with RTAO - Ray Trace Ambient Occlusion which most likely will use DirectML and many other things…)

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Didn’t I read somewhere on this forum long ago that someone had found the file with all the atc phrases and had gone through and re-written a load of them? I know it’s not the solution but I’m always looking for things to pass the time :joy:

I use live atc chatter for the handful of airports I most often fly from. Just open and run in the background. It would be great if these files could be placed in the community folder and accessed in the sim using the individual AC radios.
ONE thing I hope they can implement is helicopter specific atc instructions - clearance to helipad for TO and landing - instead of active rwy…etc

You are in the right thread, I changed the phraseology to ICAO + Eurocontrol recommendations. Although its not possible to make it 100% accurate as loads of functions are missing and other things are problems with the core ATC system rather than the phraseology itself…

it would be terrific if Blackshark could apply AI learning to ATC coms because the static system does need an overhaul. Probably the only way to address so many problems within the structure would be to let AI analyze and rewrite it. In the meantime a better approach might be to just open the functionality up and let third party development re-imagine it then incorporate those changes with cooperation from MSFS.
Conversational and correct ATC communication between player and flight sim has to be the goal.

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I’m an idiot, I didn’t read your OP properly - thanks!!

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