Ever made contact with an ATC when wanting to enter a controlled airspace and they have told you to ‘standby’? Understanding what it means is simple enough, but what action are you supposed to take?

Communications at busy, controlled aerodromes should be as concise and effective as possible so as not to block up the frequency for other aircraft. Understanding what is being said, responding appropriately and taking the correct action is not only essential for the safety of all aircraft in the airspace, but also for the efficient flow of traffic. If you are new to flying, or don’t frequently fly into controlled airspaces, then it is a really good idea to brush up on some of the really important phraseology!

On your first contact with the ATC, be sure not to interrupt a conversation with another aircraft, especially if instructions are being passed. Remember you CANNOT enter until you have been granted permission by the ATC! If you have made a call, but the controller is busy and has not yet responded to you, then you must wait or do an orbit outside of the space. The first call that you make should include your full call sign, for example: ‘Rand Tower, ZS-ABC’.

If the controller responds ‘ZS-ABC standby’, this means exactly that – wait until I provide you with a clearance to enter my airspace, and provide you with further instructions. Do not just continue on your heading to the field while waiting for instructions, you MUST wait outside the boundary until instructed otherwise!

Next up, when the controller addresses you again, provide as much of the necessary information as you can, even if you are on a flight plan (you should be!) so that they can confirm your information, and the details on your flight plan. For example: aircraft type, persons on board, endurance, intentions. This will also assist the controller in organising aircraft according to speed, remaining fuel etc.

When the controller responds, take note of the instructions – in other words, all the items that you will need to take action on, and read these back in the correct order. Information does not need to be read back, for example, runway surface winds. QNH, however, needs to be read back as this requires you to take action – you need to change the altimeter sub-scale setting. Be sure that you understand the instructions and take the appropriate actions. If you do not fully understand, or are somewhat unfamiliar with the airfield, then ask for clarification – it is better to ask than to take an inappropriate action!

On a final note, there are certain phrases which were used in the past, but are no longer encouraged as these do not confirm that the pilot has understood all the instructions – ‘wilco’ for example means ‘will comply’, but the controller has no means of confirming that the pilot has heard and understood all the instructions. Similarly, ‘roger’ was used as a confirmation, but we do not know exactly what the confirmation is for? Lastly, if in doubt, or you have messed up, it is always better to tell the controller, than to put your safety, and that of others at risk.