Listening some RTs, I heard ATCos reporting airways, for example: UL65, UPPER LIMA 65. But the phonetic alphabet says UNIFORM. Why do they say like this, please? Is there any manual in which we can study these differences?

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    $\begingroup$ This sounds a lot like how "runway 19L" is pronounced "runway one niner left" instead of "runway one niner lima". In this case, I wouldn't say that the letter "L" is being pronounced as "left" instead of "lima"; I'd say that the phrase "runway 19L" doesn't end with the letter "L" at all, but rather with the word "left", which happens to be written the same way as the letter "L". $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ If there were an airway UU65, presumably that would be "upper uniform six five", not "upper upper six five". $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ Did you used to go by Tanner Swett? Just curious... $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 17:47
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall I sure did. My username is still Tanner Swett on all other Stack Exchange sites, but it's Terran Swett on this one. If you'd like to know the reasons, send me a ping in chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/12036/the-hangar. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 4:00
  • $\begingroup$ When I was being taught radio procedure we were told that if the letter stood for a word you should always say the word it stood for, not the alphabet word. So "AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL" not "ALFA TANGO CHARLIE". It no longer and less liable to error. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 5 at 17:45

4 Answers 4



ICAO SARPs Annex 11 confirms the usage of Upper for the "U" airway prefix:

4. Use of [airway] designators in communications [...]

4.3 Where the prefixes K, U or S specified in 2.3 are used, they shall, in voice communications, be spoken as follows:



Jeppesen Airway Manual (page attached) says the same as Annex 11 with examples:

A11 will be spoken Alfa 11
UR5 will be spoken Upper Romeo 5
KB34 will be spoken Kopter Bravo 34
UW456 F will be spoken Upper Whiskey 456


Even though the US does not use the ICAO "U" prefix, it's worth mentioning that some airway designators are spoken non-phonetically.

Compare 1. and 2. below just as one example:

JO 7110.65Z [...] 2-5-1 g.

1. High Altitude - State the letter "Q" followed by the route number in group form.

"Q One Forty-five."

2. Low Altitude - State the letter of the route phonetically, followed by the number of the route in group form.

"Tango Two Ten."

And the old group is spoken in color names; see same section, and also What is a red airway on the VFR sectional?

Note: the information here is not for tail numbers, NAVAIDs, etc.; only airways where applicable.


@JimyPP is correct on the use of Uniform.

In this case (I assume you are listening in Europe) there is such thing as an Upper airway. So the controller was correct in his phraseology

All airspace above FL195 is class C controlled airspace, the equivalent to airways being called Upper Air Routes and having designators prefixed with the letter "U". If an upper air route follows the same track as an airway, its designator is the letter "U" prefix and the designator of the underlying airway.


I'm not really sure what the controller meant by "Upper". The "U" in UL65 might already stand for the word Upper, so he used the entire word instead of the one letter abbreviation.

The phraseology for the letter U is indeed "Uniform" as you can see on the specification of the NATO phonetic alphabet. There is no reference to the word "Upper" and only "Uniform" is correct.

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    $\begingroup$ Looking at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spelling_alphabet,I don't see "Upper" as part of any of the phonetic alphabets listed. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ "Upper" doesn't mean "U" -- it means "at higher altitude". $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ Following that same logic your name isn't Jimy, instead it's Juliet. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 17:38

It is important to understand the reason for the phonetic alphabet. It is not intended that plain language words should be abbreviated, then re-expanded using a phonetically pronounced first letter as a code word substitution for the original word. Rather it provides a means to spell out a word in cases where communication is difficult.

If a controller couldn't hear well and misunderstood the word "upper", saying "uniform" by itself would probably not help unless the context was very clear.

For example, an exchange where the phonetic alphabet is useful might go something like this:

Controller: "Say again, did you mean 'udder' like the udder of a cow?"

You: "Negative, I spell - Uniform, Papa, Papa, Echo, Romeo."

Whenever a plain language word exists you should generally use it first, but spell phonetically as necessary to clear up any miscommunication.

The caveat to this is when the phonetic version is in more common use. I am not actually familiar with the term "upper" as it pertains to an airway, but in the US the low altitude airways are referred to as "victor" airways. I am guessing that originally the "V" may have been for VFR, but nobody seems to know or care, or to call them anything else.

If the convention is to say "uniform" instead of "upper" (even if that is what it originally meant...) it is generally easier to follow convention to avoid confusion. In the case cited in the question though, it seems that the plain language word is being used.


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