At ‘uncontrolled’ airfields, however, all radio traffic is conducted in French between pilots operating in the local area.
Even if you can’t hear any other traffic, it is important to announce your position and intentions for the benefit of those who may be in the vicinity.
Note that many controlled airfields revert to being uncontrolled, but still available for use, outside of normal operating hours—and during lunch-breaks.
Because many small airfields use the common frequency of 123.5 MHz (130.0 MHz in mountain areas) and those with their own frequency will have nobody to confirm that users have selected it correctly, it is good practice to prefix radio calls with the name of the uncontrolled airfield being addressed.
Radio conversations in the vicinity of uncontrolled airfields are naturally ‘sparse’ compared with those in controlled airspace as other aircraft won’t be particularly interested in your origin, aircraft type or approach altitude.
This is a typical sequence of calls (with English translations) for visiting the uncontrolled airfield at Marmande:
NB Knowledge of English-language radiotelephony is assumed
NB1 Click on the highlighted French text for audio.
|2200||Deux Mille Deux Cent|
|Follow same principle for constructing larger numbers|
|Example: Fréquence Unité, Deux, Trois, Décimale, Quatre (Frequency 123.4)|
Runway numbers may be read out as single digits as in the UK (e.g. runway one three) or as complete numbers (e.g. runway thirteen).
For pilots new to speaking French, we would recommend the single-digit approach initially though you should learn to recognise the following additional numbers ASAP.
|17||Dix-sept||31||Trente et un|
|21||Vingt et un||35||Trente-cinq|
|Other values, such as time and aircraft-type, may also be expressed using either single digits or full numbers.|
|Phonetic Alphabet pronunciation|
|Alpha||November (Fr: Novembre )|
|Delta||Quebec (Fr: Québec)|
|Echo||Romeo (Fr: Roméo )|
|Hotel||Uniform (Fr: Uniforme )|
|Juliet (Fr: Juliette)||Whisky|
|Mike||Zulu (Fr: Zoulou )|
|Standard Alphabet pronunciation
As with the UK, acronyms such as QFE, ETA, etc, are usually spoken using the standard alphabet though the phonetic alphabet may be used to avoid misunderstanding.
Standard alphabet pronunciation is a little bit different in French.
|A B C||D E F||G H I|
|J K L||M N O||P Q R S|
|T U V||W X Y Z||Whole Alphabet|
|Vent Arrière prolongée||late downwind|
|Etape de Base||base leg|
|Dernier Virage||final turn|
|Longue Finale||long final|
|Courte Finale||short final|
|Piste Dégagée||runway vacated|
Sortie de zone—vers le nord
leaving the area—to the north
|Point d’arrêt||holding point|
|Virage a gauche||left turn|
|Virage a droite||right turn|
|Other useful terms||
|Circuit à gauche||left-hand circuit|
|Circuit à droite||right-hand circuit|
|Complet||in this context, a full-stop landing|
|Piste en Service||runway in use|
|Prêt au Décollage||ready for departure|
|Remise de Gaz||going round|
|Touche-Décollé||touch and go|
|Tour de Contrôle||control tower|
|Vol VFR||VFR Flight|
We would welcome comments on all aspects of French air traffic control, including those which are outside the scope of this article.
We would like to acknowledge the contributions of those who assisted with the checking of content and French R/T phraseology:
Esteban Dwarka—Member, Aéro-club de Limoges (French translation / audio recording)
Gorges Thety—Flying Instructor, Aéro-club de Limoges
Jean Pierre Neymond—Air Traffic Controller, Limoges (Bellegarde) Airport