I recently had the opportunity to fly a PAR approach into Büchel Airbase in Germany. It was a ton of fun and I'll definitely try it again when I get the chance. However, as we were getting set up for the approach I received the following call

(callsign) request heading

It caught me off guard, and it took a while but I eventually interpreted it as "say heading" and gave him my current heading. He didn't complain, but I'm still not sure if that's what he wanted.

A bit later I got a similar call

(callsign) request QNE

However, I was unfamiliar with that Q-code1 and only later found out it means "pressure altitude". Q-codes suck. Anyway I said "Say again" and he came back and asked how many were on board (which I incorrectly assumed at that point was what QNE meant), again, using "request".

Anyway, I've never heard a controller say "request" before, is it just army version of "say"? I'm pretty sure the guy was German, so it might be a German military thing, or a NATO thing, or just a simple mistake on his side?

1: As a private pilot in Europe, you pretty much need to know QNH, QFE, QDM and QTE

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    $\begingroup$ Congrats on the first question on Aviation! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ @GarrisonNeely; Thanks, I love the platform, been waiting for this one to enter beta for quite some time. :) $\endgroup$
    – falstro
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 20:58

2 Answers 2


In civil aviation the ICAO standard phraseology should be used. This phraseology is described in ICAO document 9432.

According to the definition in Doc 9432, Chapter 2, section 6, the word request means: "I should like to know ..." or "I wish to obtain ...". It is used for example by pilots to ask for a clearance to climb to an altitude (e.g. request flight level 360).

The standard ICAO phraseology is to use the word report in the first example in your question. According to the definition in Doc 9432, it means: "Pass me the following information ..."

[callsign] report heading

The second phrase quoted in your question is even stranger. QNE is the standard pressure altimetry setting of 1013.25 Hectopascal (29.92 inches of mercury in the US). When an altimeter is set to standard pressure, the normal way of reporting the altitude is in Flight Levels. So in this case the standard phraseology should have been

[callsign] report Flight Level.

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    $\begingroup$ Could you cite where you pulled the ICAO standard phraseology from? Generally, "report" is used when they would like you to notify them upon reaching a certain location or altitude, and "say" is used when they'd like you to inform them of something current... at least in the US. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ @BretCopeland see edit. To be exact: ICAO DOC9432, Chapter 2, section 6: Standard words and phrases. ATC in the US uses a lot of non-standard phraseology, which unfortunately frequently causes confusion to international pilots. $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ Just a note on a common misunderstanding: QNE is actually indicated altitude when 1013 is set. Unlike ONH and QFE it is not the pressure to be set into Kollsman's window, but the "indicated pressure level" (still a pressure mind you) at your aircraft's location. QNE for example will change when your aircraft climbs/decends. QNH and QFE will not $\endgroup$
    – Radu094
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 9:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Radu094; "indicated altitude when 1013 is set", that would be pressure altitude, no? Oh, I see, @DeltaLima said it was the setting, not the altitude (I said altitude in the question), although he went on to say it refers to altitude in flight levels. So yeah, maybe a bit of clarification is not wrong :) $\endgroup$
    – falstro
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 7:45
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    $\begingroup$ definition of QNE and another one apparently it's (pressure altitude at) field elevation..? $\endgroup$
    – falstro
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 10:56

"Request " is very common in Europe but it's usually the pilot who will use it to talk to ATC, as in "Request taxi" or "Request to enter your airspace".

I've never heard this phrase being used by a controller in Belgium, France and The Netherlands (where I've flown the most so far). Seems very odd to me.

  • $\begingroup$ Right, of course I use request all the time, never had anyone say it to me though. Any experience with military controllers? $\endgroup$
    – falstro
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ The few times I've spoken to military controllers they didn't request something. They ordered me to do or say something :-). On a serious note, it could very well be something specific to military airspace though. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 20:40
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    $\begingroup$ In the U.S., I think the controllers would typically use the phrase "callsign, say heading" rather than the verb "request". Pilots would usually be the one to say "request", but I don't think there's anything technically wrong if controllers use it. You clearly understood the intention. $\endgroup$
    – bovine
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ @bovine; actually, during the first second or so, I thought he'd just asked me to request a heading, which I couldn't wrap my head around, so I wouldn't say i understood it clearly. :) Funny how the mind works sometimes when it's faced with the unexpected. $\endgroup$
    – falstro
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 23:37

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