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Callsigns

Introduction:

  • An ATC call sign will be used for ATC purposes
  • Call signs should never be abbreviated on an initial contact or at any time when other aircraft call signs have similar numbers/sounds or identical letters/number
    • After initial contact you may abbreviated your call sign with the prefix and the last 3-digits or letters of the identification
  • Civil aircraft pilots should state the aircraft type, model, or manufacturers name, followed by the digits/letters of the registration number
    • The N is dropped
  • Air carriers and commuter air carriers having FAA authorized call signs should identify themselves by starting the complete call sign and the word "Heavy" as appropriate
  • All communications will reference your FULL callsign and not just "two"

  • Never abbreviate a call sign on initial contact or when other aircraft have similar callsigns; only abbreviate when ATC does first
  • Air taxi or commercial operators without FAA authorized callsigns prefix with "tango"
  • Air ambulance flights will use the word "MEDEVAC" if flying medical emergencies and need the priority handling
    • Similar provisions have been made for the use of "Air Evac" and "HOSP" by military ambulance flights
  • Use "student pilot" on your initial contact (if applicable) to notify ATC that you could use any additional help/special consideration
  • The pilot is also expected to use the appropriate aircraft call sign to acknowledge all ATC clearances, frequency changes, or advisory information

Civilian Callsign Requirements:

  • The Air Traffic Organization (ATO) headquarters' (HQ) Aeronautical Information Management (AIM) Office (AJV-2) (callsigns@faa.gov) assigns the designators when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determines that designators are advantageous and operationally appropriate to the U.S. ATC system

Student Pilots Radio Identification:

  • The FAA desires to help student pilots in acquiring sufficient practical experience in the environment in which they will be required to operate
  • To receive additional assistance while operating in areas of concentrated air traffic, student pilots need only identify themselves as a student pilot during their initial call to an FAA radio facility:
    • "[Facility], [Callsign] student pilot"
    • "Dayton tower, Fleetwing One Two Three Four, student pilot"
  • This special identification will alert FAA ATC personnel and enable them to provide student pilots with such extra assistance and consideration as they may need
  • It is recommended that student pilots identify themselves as such, on initial contact with each clearance delivery prior to taxiing, ground control, tower, approach and departure control frequency, or FSS contact

Air Ambulance Flights:

  • Because of the priority afforded air ambulance flights in the ATC system, extreme discretion is necessary when using the term "MEDEVAC"
  • It is only intended for those missions of an urgent medical nature and to be utilized only for that portion of the flight requiring expeditious handling
  • When requested by the pilot, necessary notification to expedite ground handling of patients, etc., is provided by ATC; however, when possible, this information should be passed in advance through non-ATC communications systems
  • Civilian air ambulance flights responding to medical emergencies (first call to an accident scene, carrying patients, organ donors, organs, or other urgently needed lifesaving medical material) will be expedited by ATC when necessary
    • When expeditious handling is necessary, add the word "MEDEVAC" in the remarks section of the flight plan
    • In radio communications, use the call sign "MEDEVAC" followed by the aircraft registration letters/numbers
      • MEDEVAC Two Six Four Six
  • Similar provisions have been made for the use of "AIR EVAC" and "HOSP" by military air ambulance flights, except that these military flights will receive priority handling only when specifically requested
  • Air carrier and Air Taxi flights responding to medical emergencies will also be expedited by ATC when necessary
    • The nature of these medical emergency flights usually concerns the transportation of urgently needed lifesaving medical materials or vital organs
    • IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT THE COMPANY/PILOT DETERMINE, BY THE NATURE/URGENCY OF THE SPECIFIC MEDICAL CARGO, IF PRIORITY ATC ASSISTANCE IS REQUIRED
    • Pilots must ensure that the word "MEDEVAC" is included in the remarks section of the flight plan and use the call sign "MEDEVAC" followed by the company name and flight number for all transmissions when expeditious handling is required
    • It is important for ATC to be aware of "MEDEVAC" status, and it is the pilot's responsibility to ensure that this information is provided to ATC
      • MEDEVAC Delta Thirty-Seven

Flight Check:

  • Flight Check is a call sign used to alert pilots and ATC when an FAA aircraft is engaged in flight inspection/certification of NAVAIDs and flight procedures
  • Flight check aircraft fly preplanned high/low altitude flight patterns such as grids, orbits, DME arcs, and tracks including low passes along the full length of the runway to verify NAVAID performance
    • Pilots should be especially watchful and avoid the flight paths of any aircraft using the call sign "Flight Check"
    • These flights will normally receive special handling from ATC
    • Pilot patience and cooperation in allowing uninterrupted recordings can significantly help expedite flight inspections, minimize costly, repetitive runs, and reduce the burden on the U.S. Taxpayer

Navy Callsign Requirements:

  • Call sign selection for cross-country flights shall be made in accordance with DoD FLIPs
  • It is strongly recommended that squadron modex (NJ213, DB214) be used in flight planning
  • If the use of tactical/squadron call signs is necessary, call signs shall be the approved JANAP 119 call sign for the unit concerned
  • Abbreviations or contractions of these call signs is not authorized

Tactical Callsigns:

  • For any other portions of the flight, a tactical callsign will be used
  • For your tactical callsigns, pick a word (not a personal callsign) of no more than two syllables that you can say five times very fast

Aircraft Tail Letters and Side Numbers:

  • Assignment of aircraft tail letters and identification markings is the responsibility of Air Warfare Assistant for Aviation History and Publications (OPNAVINST (N88H))
  • Aircraft side numbers are assigned by force, wing, group, and squadron commanders, as appropriate
  • Appendix C delineates the visual identification system for naval aircraft and provides procedures and guidelines for assignment of the markings and side numbers that uniquely identify each aircraft

Precautions in the Use of Call Signs:

  • Improper use of call signs can result in pilots executing a clearance intended for another aircraft
    • Call signs should never be abbreviated on an initial contact or at any time when other aircraft call signs have similar numbers/sounds or identical letters/number; e.g., Cessna 6132F, Cessna 1622F, Baron 123F, Cherokee 7732F, etc.
      • Example: Assume that a controller issues an approach clearance to an aircraft at the bottom of a holding stack and an aircraft with a similar call sign (at the top of the stack) acknowledges the clearance with the last two or three numbers of the aircraft's call sign. If the aircraft at the bottom of the stack did not hear the clearance and intervene, flight safety would be affected, and there would be no reason for either the controller or pilot to suspect that anything is wrong. This kind of "human factors" error can strike swiftly and is extremely difficult to rectify
  • Be aware that sometimes controllers will be listening to multiple frequencies which you are not, but talking on all leaving you with partial instructions to other aircraft which can also lead to confusion
    • Example: Assume that a controller issues an approach clearance to an aircraft at the bottom of a holding stack and an aircraft with a similar call sign (at the top of the stack) acknowledges the clearance with the last two or three numbers of the aircraft's call sign. If the aircraft at the bottom of the stack did not hear the clearance and intervene, flight safety would be affected, and there would be no reason for either the controller or pilot to suspect that anything is wrong
  • Pilots, therefore, must be certain that aircraft identification is complete and clearly identified before taking action on an ATC clearance
    • ATC specialists will not abbreviate call signs of air carrier or other civil aircraft having authorized call signs
    • ATC specialists may initiate abbreviated call signs of other aircraft by using the prefix and the last three digits/letters of the aircraft identification after communications are established
    • The pilot may use the abbreviated call sign in subsequent contacts with the ATC specialist
    • When aware of similar/identical call signs, ATC specialists will take action to minimize errors by emphasizing certain numbers/letters, by repeating the entire call sign, by repeating the prefix, or by asking pilots to use a different call sign temporarily
    • Pilots should use the phrase "VERIFY CLEARANCE FOR (your complete call sign)" if doubt exists concerning proper identity
  • Civil aircraft pilots should state the aircraft type, model or manufacturer's name, followed by the digits/letters of the registration number
    • When the aircraft manufacturer's name or model is stated, the prefix “N” is dropped; e.g., Aztec Two Four Six Four Alpha
      • Bonanza Six Five Five Golf
      • Breezy Six One Three Romeo Experimental (omit “Experimental” after initial contact)
  • Air Taxi or other commercial operators not having FAA authorized call signs should prefix their normal identification with the phonetic word “Tango”
    • Tango Aztec Two Four Six Four Alpha
  • Air carriers and commuter air carriers having FAA authorized call signs should identify themselves by stating the complete call sign (using group form for the numbers) and the word "super" or “heavy” if appropriate
    • United Twenty-Five Heavy
    • Midwest Commuter Seven Eleven
  • Military aircraft use a variety of systems including serial numbers, word call signs, and combinations of letters/numbers
    • Examples include Army Copter 48931; Air Force 61782; REACH 31792; Pat 157; Air Evac 17652; Navy Golf Alfa Kilo 21; Marine 4 Charlie 36, etc.

Description of Interchange or Leased Aircraft:

  • Controllers issue traffic information based on familiarity with airline equipment and color/markings
  • When an air carrier dispatches a flight using another company's equipment and the pilot does not advise the terminal ATC facility, the possible confusion in aircraft identification can compromise safety
  • Pilots flying an "interchange" or "leased" aircraft not bearing the colors/markings of the company operating the aircraft should inform the terminal ATC facility on first contact the name of the operating company and trip number, followed by the company name as displayed on the aircraft, and aircraft type
    • "Air Cal Three Eleven, United [Interchange/Lease], Boeing Seven Two Seven"

Ground Callsigns:

  • Pilots, when calling a ground station, should begin with the name of the facility being called followed by the type of the facility being called [Figure 1]

Calling a Ground Station
Figure 1: Calling a Ground Station

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