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I've been taught before that the word "takeoff" should only be used when reading back a clearance, and that when requesting a clearance pilots should advise "ready" or "ready for departure."

Here's the really critical point to the question. I've always believed that the word "takeoff" should only be used when reading back a clearance for such an action. Not when requesting a clearance for that action.

I've also heard it taught that this is true only for IFR flights but it's okay to ask for a clearance with the word "takeoff" when VFR. I don't see why the difference between VFR or IFR flight would be a factor here.

Has the ICAO, FAA or any other controlling organization released any written guidance on radio communications that covers this procedure?

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up vote 32 down vote accepted

The word "Takeoff" should only be used when clearing somebody for takeoff, acknowledging your takeoff clearance, or cancelling/acknowledging a cancelled takeoff clearance.

"Departure" should be used in all other circumstances, and as far as I'm aware whoever told you you could use the word Takeoff for VFR was wrong.

Anybody saying the word "takeoff" intends for an aircraft to enter, accelerate along, and then leave a runway in the immediate future: never anything else. Anybody saying otherwise should be immediately directed to the Wikipedia article for the Tenerife 747 disaster.

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Yeah @RyanBurnette I'm struggling to find a regulation, and indeed I'm not sure if it's been codified - if it has I can't find it. – Jon Story Mar 10 at 14:14
I think the point is that you'll find the answers around that disaster - the recommendations came in the investigation and accident reports etc – Jon Story Mar 10 at 15:02
@RyanBurnette The examples you'll find in the FAA's Aeronautical Information Manual all use the "ready for departure" phraseology - there used to be several but seems like just one now. I'm not aware of anything regulatory or in the Pilot/Controller Glossary that says we shouldn't use the phrase "ready for takeoff", but it seems general practice is to avoid using that word unless reading back a clearance (using "ready for departure" or "ready to go", or any number of other circumlocutions to avoid the "T" word). – voretaq7 Mar 10 at 17:28
@voretaq7 I have noticed that all the AIM's example use the "ready for departure" phraseology and any examples of "ready for takeoff" are contextual and not examples of radio communications. I'm leaning towards deciding this is one of those things that doesn't have a correct answer, but I'll prefer and teach the procedure that makes the most sense to me. – Ryan Burnette Mar 10 at 17:31
It has a correct answer, it's just part of the procedures rather than the regulations – Jon Story Mar 10 at 17:34

ICAO Doc. 4444 specifies standards for ATC communication. "DEPARTURE" is used for taxi-ing etc, and "TAKE-OFF" is used when actually taking off.

In Europe, this EASA guide specifies much the same thing.

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I'll check out ICAO Doc. 4444, but can you elaborate on what it says? My question is specifically about how to call and ask for the clearance when you're ready at the hold short line or in sequence. – Ryan Burnette Mar 10 at 16:58

There's no definitive FAA statement one way or another that I could find. Outside the US and per ICAO, "take-off" is only used when accepting a take-off clearance and you should use "departure" in other situations.

There's nothing I could find about departure vs. take-off phraseology in the P/CG, AIM or ATC orders. The AIM uses "departure" in its examples but makes no comment about avoiding "take-off" and an FAA runway safety publication doesn't have anything to say about it either. AOPA has an article (from 1999, admittedly, so perhaps it's now considered outdated) that says that pilots can use "take-off" to tell ATC they're ready:

When you're ready for takeoff, use the same "who, where, and what" format for your initial call to the tower - "Anytown tower, Trainer zero-zero-zero-zero-Yankee , ready for takeoff Runway three-three."

That phraseology is commonly used at my local airport in the US but it would be a major no-no in South Africa, where I learned to fly. And Jon's answer is based on UK experience (only because it's in his profile), so it looks like an ICAO vs. US thing, at least to some extent.

And indeed, ICAO document 4444 uses the word "departure" as part of "preparation for take-off", and "take-off" itself for "take-off clearances" (see sections and says that pilots only need to say "ready" to inform ATC that they're ready for departure: "Tower, N12345 is holding at 18, ready". It doesn't address uncontrolled fields, but the usual call I was taught was "N12345 is departing runway 18".

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"Take-off" indicates to others on frequency that a potentially high-risk operation is about to be undertaken by another aircraft, which they should take a special interest in for situational awareness and conflict management.

Procedures vary by field, but standard ICAO phraseology (or equivalent for the jurisdiction) should be employed for all the radio telephony. Assuming the aircraft is waiting on a taxiway at the active runway, a typical notification to the tower that the crew are ready to depart might be:

Some Tower. Speedbird Niner Juliet. Holding runway 27 left, ready for departure.

Typical responses from the tower would be:

  1. Cleared for takeoff [runway], wind [...]. The aircraft is cleared -- at the crew's discretion -- to taxi onto the designated runway, apply power and lift off.
  2. Runway [identifier], line up and wait. Cleared to taxi onto the designated runway, DO NOT commence take-off roll, await further instructions. (Delays typically for spacing / sequencing, conflicting traffic movements, departures taking place behind arriving aircraft, ...)
  3. No immediate action. The aircraft cannot enter the active runway for some reason, so continues to wait at the hold-short line until further instructions or clearances are provided.

At some fields, it may not be necessary or desired to provide an indication of departure readiness. Ground may provide such indication on the pilot's behalf and advise at switchover to simply monitor the tower frequency.

Non-standard RT phraseology does often creep in. I sometimes hear either "[Callsign] rolling", "rolling [runway identifier]" or a combination announced upon commencing the roll. This is particularly the case if there has been a delay between issuing the take-off clearance and the departure commencing. It's a courtesy and notification to others on the field or in the pattern to watch out for the metal about to be thrown along the tarmac at high-speed.

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The ICAO Common Taxonomy Team defines take-off as:

From the application of takeoff power, through rotation and to an altitude of 35 feet above runway elevation. This phase of flight includes the following subphases:

• Takeoff. From the application of takeoff power, through rotation and to an altitude of 35 feet above runway elevation or until gear-up selection, whichever comes first.

• Rejected Takeoff. During takeoff, from the point where the decision to abort has been taken until the aircraft begins to taxi from the runway.

So, the term 'takeoff' should be used only if the intention is to acclerate, rotate and leave the runway. Use of takeoff in any other sense would result in confusion, with potentially dangerous consequences.

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That document applies to accident and incident reporting terminology, not radio communication phraseology. – reirab Mar 10 at 18:56

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