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Do pilots ever talk directly to other pilots over air band radio, or only to air traffic control?

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Informally, pilots talk to each other quite often, even on frequencies they're not supposed to (link is to a YouTube video of Kennedy Steve inviting pilots to heap verbal abuse on a pilot who hot-mic'd his preflight on JFK_GND).

Formally, aircraft have specific frequencies for air-to-air communications.

communications between private, fixed-wing aircraft, there is just one authorized frequency: 122.75 MHz. For general aviation helicopters: 123.025 MHz. Gliders and hot air balloons share 123.3 and 123.5 MHz.

122.9 has been used historically, and 123.45 gets mis-used so often it's called "Fingers" because its frequency's digits are in natural counting order.

Finally, when outside of controlled airspace, Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies (CTAF) are how aircraft coordinates with each other in regards to operations in airfields and other landmarks.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! So there's no legal way for e.g. a pilot of a GA airplane to talk to the pilot of a GA helicopter, other than by using an alternative radio service? $\endgroup$
    – Someone
    Sep 29, 2022 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Someone If they're in controlled airspace, they shouldn't need to. ATC is either separating them, or they're in VMC, operating VFR, and shouldn't need radio to see and avoid each other. Outside of controlled airspace, that's what CTAF is for (edited to include). $\endgroup$ Sep 29, 2022 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Someone, what makes you think it is illegal to talk to another pilot? $\endgroup$ Sep 29, 2022 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall Strictly speaking, 47 CFR 87.185 (a) states that "Aircraft stations must limit their communications to the necessities of safe, efficient, and economic operation of aircraft and the protection of life and property in the air, except as otherwise specifically provided in this part". And nowhere in that part do they allow for casual conversation. $\endgroup$ Sep 29, 2022 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ OK, but because there are two designated air-to-air frequencies, (one for fixed wing, one for helos) you are presuming that it is "illegal" for a fixed wing pilot to ever communicate with a helicopter pilot? That seems like a very oppressive interpretation, and one that doesn't mesh with safe or efficient interoperations. If I was briefing with a helicopter pilot for any reason I'd pick one of those freqs and not think twice about somebody questioning me. Two frequencies are provided to spread things out, not to prevent or render illegal any cross-talk between category/class aircraft. $\endgroup$ Sep 29, 2022 at 17:39
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Yes. They may talk directly:

  • on the designated en-route air to air frequencies. These are not linked to a specific location.

  • when relaying communications for ATC on ATC frequencies or for FSS on an FSS frequency, if a plane has a weak radio, is out of range[ie over ocean], or in a mountain valley.

  • on CTAF and unicom(sometimes the same frequency), which are most commonly linked to pilot-controlled airports but can be designated for other high traffic areas(the later is more common in Alaska). The airspace may be class E(controlled by ARTCC or TRACON/approach) or class G(uncontrolled).

  • on multicom. Multicoms are often used for special events, emergency operations like search and rescue or firefighting, fish and game management, etc..

  • on the emergency frequency 121.5 for any assistance needed.

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You can ask atc for permission to speak with another on the freq, at least that happened when another pilot wanted to speak to me and asked and recieved permission.

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  • $\begingroup$ FYI, you don't need permission to speak from ATC if the transmission is operationally necessary. I have heard plenty of pilots jump in to relay a message to an aircraft that isn't responding for some reason after several attempts by ATC. (e.g. "N123Y, Center is trying to call, they want you to switch to 124.75.") ATC generally thanks them for helping. $\endgroup$ Oct 4, 2022 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ And along those lines, ATC will sometimes ask you to contact the aircraft not responding. But then you probably knew that already. I was referring to a different situation where one pilot simply wants to speak with another on the frequency. $\endgroup$ Oct 5, 2022 at 21:37

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