ATC System & Phraseology Discussion

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.


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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Hi guys, I’ve overhauled my ATC Mod to work properly with SU5 (, it got broken after the update bringing the FAA phraseology improvements to the sim.

I also made a lot of improvements to the Mod itself to the point that I feel I have reached the best compromise now with the current ATC system. Some of the improvements:

  • Approach or Radar now clears for the approach instead of tower, upon check-in with tower the response will simply be “continue approach” followed by landing clearance.
  • “Center” has been replaced by “Radar”
  • “Continue as cleared” is now replaced by the more realistic “radar contact”.
  • RNAV approach is now RNP approach.
  • Phraseology for cruising level changes revised.
  • Vectors for approach removed as FS2020 does not give vectors.
  • Numerous other small tweaks and improvements.
  • Back-up System revised, its 100% safe to use this Mod now as the installer creates a timestamped back-up every time it is run. No more overwriting of original files accidentally.
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