For example, a commercial airliner is inbound and is in the traffic pattern; ATC instructs the aircraft to reduce speed to 160 knots, which the airliner does. ATC notice the aircraft has complied but never read back the instruction. Would the air traffic controller file some type of complaint against the crew?

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    $\begingroup$ Look up "Kennedy Steve" on youtube, there are plenty of examples of this exact thing. $\endgroup$
    – jesse_b
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Jesse_b Steve's a ground controller. OP is talking about tower ops, it sounds like. $\endgroup$
    – J...
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ @J... Air traffic controllers work all positions, usually all in the same day. Steve's funniest recordings just happen to be on ground, but I don't think the rules for disobeying ATC differ very much between positions. There is still the same level of danger on the ground with planes crossing active runways, etc. Also I believe Steve no longer works control at all but is now in a management position. $\endgroup$
    – jesse_b
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 23:21
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    $\begingroup$ What happens if you are on the phone with someone and they stop responding? Do you send them a complaint, or do you first ask them if they are still there and if they heard what you said? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 10:57
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    $\begingroup$ @J...: Steve on tower and Interview with Kennedy Steve $\endgroup$
    – jesse_b
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 13:45

1 Answer 1


No, ATC would not file a complaint for a single missed read back. In order to file a complaint they'd need to have very good reason to believe that the pilots were willingly breaking communication regulations, and there are so many other valid reasons for why this scenario could happen:

  • The pilots may have responded but it may not have been received. If two stations talk at the same time the stronger one wins, so they may have read it back but it was lost
  • The pilots may be dealing with a problem, or have a high workload. Communication is the lowest priority, flying the airplane safely is first, then navigation
  • The pilots may have a technical problem with the radio
  • The frequency could be too busy to get a read back in, sometimes the frequency can be so dense with communications you can't get a word in edgewise, so the pilots may comply and eventually just give up

These are just a few reasons from my own personal experience when I haven't read back an instruction or my read back wasn't received. If ATC is worried about it they can always call me back.

EDIT: The readback is a requirement for some instructions and I am in no way saying it's okay not to. My answer is for the specific scenario given, I think that the FAA would and should bust people who fail to readback in certain circumstances.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 In my experience, if someone misses a read back, ATC explicitly ask them to read back the instructions. If that doesn't happen they ask the pilot if they are still on frequency and if so, continue to badger them for a read back. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ Yes that's because the clearance or instruction doesn't have "legal status" technically until the readback. A friend was busted when he went through the altitude of the initial clearance because a new altitude was cleared and he just dialed it up and kept climbing and passed the original cleared alt before he read back the revised clearance. At the time the ATC unit was having a difficult time with pilots over some incidents and was following a kind of zero tolerance policy as retaliation. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ @DaveGremlin But why bother if you can see on the scope that the pilot has complied? "Ukraine 478 turn right heading 090" (Ukraine turns right to 090) (silence) that's your readback $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 6:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Harper-ReinstateMonica presumably to avoid letting dangerous habits develop. If they had misheard the instruction and did the wrong thing, instead of just reading back the wrong thing and getting a correction, that would be a lot worse. I'm just guessing about this, but I assume that's (part of) the reason for the read-back rule in the first place. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 6:48
  • $\begingroup$ "aviate, navigate, communicate" $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 11:17

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