My instrument instructor pointed out that I’ve been saying “Four Seven Fox” instead of “Four Seven Foxtrot”. I realize I’ve been doing this for years now, but this is the first I’ve ever been called out on it. I don’t usually fly a plane with an “F” in the tail number but now my regular club plane does end in Foxtrot so I want to fix the habit. For how common it is though, I found surprisingly little commentary in the (FAA) FAR/AIM or on here. I hear it all the time on radio, but that doesn’t tell me if ATC finds it bothersome or how bad it is that I've said this however many times.

Is abbreviating “Foxtrot” to “Fox” acceptable for ATC comms?

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    $\begingroup$ Just a little colour commentary. When I worked at IBM, we used the phonetics Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, Easy, Fox. This is the old US Army/Navy phonetic alphabet from WWII. Are there a lot of older pilots in your area? Or old IBMers? $\endgroup$
    – Dancrumb
    Commented Mar 7 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ Adding to the color commentary FWIW, it used to be Fox until 1956: blog.privatefly.com/history-of-the-nato-phonetic-alphabet. And IMHO there are more annoying phonetic faux pas than this, such as responding to a radio check with "Lima Charlie"... $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ "Fox" sounds too much like "Cox", might make someone think you are flying one of these ebay.com/b/COX-Control-Line-Freeflight-Models-Kits/34054/… $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall what's wrong with Lima Charlie? $\endgroup$
    – ghostly_s
    Commented Mar 7 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall sorry but that means nothing to me. $\endgroup$
    – ghostly_s
    Commented Mar 8 at 7:30

5 Answers 5


Simply put: no, it is not ok to abbreviate the phonetic alphabet.

The reason the phonetic alphabet is used in aviation is to make communications as clear as possible with minimum chances for misinterpretations.

The terms for each alphabet are chosen such that letters that otherwise would sound similar, especially over poor connection, are pronounced in a way that leaves pretty much zero chance of getting them wrong.

The basic mechanism that humans use to "decipher" vocal communications is distinguishing the pronounciation of wovels and consonats, and observing the actual length of the word. To properly catch a word these need to match to a certain extent, and over poor transmission they can compensate for each other. Words of medium length offer the best combination of the properties to ensure correct delivery and this is what the ICAO phonetic alphabet aims for. It must be noted, however, that the ICAO alphabet has two somewhat peculiar intances in this regard: Mike for M and Golf for G. These are very short words with no variation in them.

Although one could come up with similar terms off the top of their head, it is important that the system remains strictly defined. This will enable quicker learning of the system, and makes it extremely reliable everywhere. The system is used uniformly all around the world. There are, of course, national versions for different languages, but for aviation English it is always the same.

Please keep in mind that there are rules for numerals too: Three is pronounced "Tree", four is pronounced Fow-er, five is pronounced "Fife" and nine is pronounce "Niner".

This blog post offers a nice brief history of the phonetic alphabet: privatefly.com - history of the nato phonetic alphabet

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    $\begingroup$ "Alphapet"... Fox... I see what you did there. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ I find the inclusion of "Foxtrot" and "Oscar" a bit curious, since they have the same vowel pattern as well as similar middle consonants. Still, shortening "Foxtrot" to "Fox" could result in it being heard as "Fah[static]" which could be misinterpreted as "four". $\endgroup$
    – supercat
    Commented Mar 7 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ @DewiMorgan Phonetically, Both can commonly use /ɑ/ or the "ah" sound. Foxtrot being F"ah"ks-tr"ah"t. Oscar being "Ah"s-c"ah"r. The spelling would dissuade most from pronouncing Oscar as "Ah"s-Cur $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ Additionally, "Fox" is the word used by NATO so signify the release of air-to-air-ammunition. While rather unlikely to occur in private aviation, it might yield a few question marks when used. $\endgroup$
    – Bobby
    Commented Mar 8 at 10:44
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    $\begingroup$ @kebs the phonetic alphabet is an ICAO standard, there should be no variation in this among ICAO member states. Then agaim the french are famous for doing whatever ze 'ell zey please 😃 $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Commented Mar 10 at 15:24

Bad mics, speakers, ears, or radio connections can remove plosives, siblants, and basically all consonants, in which case the phonetic alphabet is heard as follows:

A-a, a-o, ar-ee, e-a, e-o, o-o, o, ou-e, i-i-u, u-i-e, i-o, i-a, aee, o-e-u, o-u, a-a, e-e, e-eeo, ie-a, a-o, U-ee-or, i-or, i-ee, e-ay, a-ee, u-u.

Vowels are the most likely part to be changed by accent, but the least likely part to be lost by the audio recording/transmission.

If you change "o-o" (foxtrot) to "o" (fox), there's nothing else there to distinguish it over a poor connection from "o" (golf).

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    $\begingroup$ Wow this explains how HoH hearing works, as well- why seemingly different words such as golf and fox can become indistinguishable. Vowels are king. $\endgroup$
    – marts
    Commented Mar 8 at 14:21

It's not acceptable. @Jpe61 explains very well about the phonetic alphabet's design, I will not cover that any more. There are other reasons that it's a bad practice:

  • If you shorten words or pronounce them incorrectly you introducing uncertainty, people hearing it may wonder whether the sender is shortening the words or if there is a problem with radio communication. They may waste time asking for clarification, or misinterpret your communication as a result
  • It makes people doubt your competence, and reduces others' confidence in you. If I hear someone making an effort with their calls there's a better chance they'll be equally conscientious in the rest of their piloting. Good phraseology can make the difference between getting an ATC clearance and them telling you to stay out of their zone

No, it is not acceptable. Even if all your radio transmissions were received with perfect audio fidelity and a minimum of RF interference, you still do not have a special right to give callsigns in a way that nobody else does. There are very good reasons why it is a uniform international standard that everybody, except you, has adhered to for decades, regardless of radio frequency & modulation type or aircraft class.

Sure, you can get away with it in some jurisdictions, & you say you hear others doing it, but you are advertising a level of sloppiness that many listening might perhaps apply to other aspects of your airmanship.

What prompted you to start abbreviating Foxtrot in the first place? Are you trying to sound casual, or sort of world-weary, ten-thousand-hours-nonchalant? Or did you hear others doing it & it sounded cool?

I've been flying since the 70s in a few different countries & using radios in a number of other industries & it's just never occurred to me to do this.

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    $\begingroup$ I heard it often at my home airport and remembered it as such, not really having to repeat it on most flights because I wasn't flying planes with an "F" on the tail. Not trying to make an exception for myself, quite the opposite. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Mar 7 at 5:37
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    $\begingroup$ A bit harsh @Mackk, the OP is asking to know what the right thing is, not to get justification for bad behavior. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Commented Mar 7 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, like what do you mean by "you can get away with it in some jurisdictions"? Are there actual penalties?! $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7 at 17:06

Is it a good thing, no, but is it legal? Yes. There is no requirement for pilots to utilize standardized phraseology in the US. A controller may have to ask for a second read back if he/she doesn't understand your original one, which slows both the pilot and controller down. Controllers on the other hand do have to utilize standard phraseology if it is prescribed.


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