AIM Phraseology

The topic of radio etiquette has come up quite frequently of late, and it got me poking through the Airman Information Manual. Officially, when a controller calls out another aircraft to you, he/she is expecting one of two and only two replies. Either “traffic in sight” or “negative contact”.

It may not be standard AIM phraseology, but I use the phrase “looking” quite often.

I use it because, to me at least, it conveys a specific meaning which is easily interpretable by ATC. It means “I don’t see the traffic, but I’m trying to find it” and it also conveys that ATC’s transmission was understood: I know there is traffic out there, and he’s generally at my 2 o’clock (or whatever) position.

I could just say “Roger” in response to the traffic call. But then, “looking” doesn’t take any longer or have any more syllables in it. It’s short, concise, and conveys a specific meaning.

“Negative contact” has an implication of “I can’t find him”. But I don’t want to say that initially, because I haven’t looked yet. If I start to use “negative contact” when I’m looking, then I guess I’d have to say “I can’t find him” or “Can you update me on the traffic?” when I need to let the controller know that I searched high and low to no avail for the conflicting aircraft. But those phrases are far more wordy.

So is “looking” an officialy sanctioned response? No. But of all the things I hear on the radio, that one doesn’t sound too egregious. The fish finder stuff and superfluous ahs, umms, full callsigns when unnecessary, etc should probably go away first.

My general arguement against Nazi-like adherence to AIM-specified radio protocol is that if we did that, you’d never hear things like “thanks” or “good day” or “happy 4th” or any of the little niceties that make flying pleasurable. To be sure, there’s a time and place for them based on frequency congestion. I’m definitely the king of concise radio communcation and force my students to be that way from day one. VNY may be the 800 lb gorilla of the GA airport world, but SNA is not far behind.

And perhaps that’s the greater lesson: be sensitive to the environment you’re flying in. If the frequency is jam-packed with traffic and the weather stinks, keep it short and sweet, speak clearly, and listen up. If it’s the middle of the night and you’re the only guy on the radio, then you can relax a bit.

For what it’s worth, my biggest pet peeve is pilots who disregard the standard phonetic alphabet in favor of ‘cute’ substitutes because they think it sounds cool. I have a small aneurism every time I hear that kind of thing. (Note to any FAA medical personnel reading this: I didn’t say that).

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