Now that you know the letters and numbers, let’s look at the “grammar” (structure) and vocabulary. Aviation language follows a sequence of “Ws.” With pronunciation as we’ve indicated earlier, a pilot might say something like: “Phoenix Approach (whom you are calling), Skyhawk one-tree-fife-niner Tango (who you are), two-zero miles west at fife-tousand, fife hundred feet (where you are, both laterally and vertically), landing Falcon Field” (what you want to do).
The Air Traffic Controller (ATC) uses a similar sequence to respond: Skyhawk one-tree-fife-niner Tango (whom ATC is calling), Phoenix Approach (who is making the call), radar contact, twenty miles west, fife-tousand fife hundred feet (where the aircraft is). Maintain present heading; descend and maintain tree-tousand, fife hundred feet” (what ATC wants you to do).
The letters, numbers, and facility names will vary, but the structural sequence is the same.
Now let’s decode some useful words and phrases:
ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) is recorded information on current weather and airport information, such as runways in use. Each ATIS recording has an alpha-numeric designator. The recording for “ATIS information Foxtrot” follows “ATIS information Echo.”
Squawk: This word refers to the aircraft’s transponder code, which can be either a standard code (1200 for visual flight rules — VFR) or a discrete code assigned by ATC. It can be a noun (“say assigned squawk”), an adjective (“squawk code is 2345”), or a verb (“squawk 5423”).
Mayday: Hopefully you will never have to use this one, but “Mayday” means emergency. In case you’re wondering, the word is a corruption of the French term for “help me” (m’aider).