« Flying in France (1962-2008) | Main | Reader's Question—taildraggers in Montpellier »

19 February 2008

French Radio Calls

Pic04041 As a general rule, English is the language used by all French Air Traffic Control services unless you address them in French when they will respond accordingly.

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.

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. 


Marmande; Foxtrot Golf Mike Kilo Tango, ETA five minutes
Marmande; Foxtrot Golf Mike Kilo Tango, estimé cinq minutes

Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, overhead, joining downwind for runway 11
Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, verticale, nous intégrons vent arrière pour piste unité, unité

Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, downwind for runway 11
Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, vent arrière pour piste unité, unité

Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, base leg for runway 11
Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, étape de base pour piste unité, unité

Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, turning final for runway 11
Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, dernier virage pour piste unité, unité

Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, final for runway 11
Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, finale pour piste unité, unité

Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, runway vacated
Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, piste dégagée
Marmande; Foxtrot Golf Mike Kilo Tango, taxiing holding point for runway 11
Marmande; Foxtrot Golf Mike Kilo Tango, roulons point d’arrêt pour piste unité, unité
Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, entering active runway
Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, Je pénètre
Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, backtracking runway
Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, Je remonte
Marmand, Foxtrot Kilo Tango, lining-up runway 11
Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, aligné piste unité, unité
Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, taking-off
Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, décollage 
Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, leaving the zone
Marmande; Foxtrot Kilo Tango, sortie de zone


0 Zéro
1 Unité
2 Deux
3 Trois
4 Quatre
5 Cinq
6 Six
7 Sept
8 Huit
9 Neuf
  Numbers 0-9
100 Cent
200 Deux Cent
1000 Mille
2000 Deux Mille
2200 Deux Mille Deux Cent
  Follow same principle for constructing larger numbers
Example: Fréquence Unité, Deux, Trois, Décimale, Quatre (Frequency 123.4)


Runway Numbers

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.

10 Dix 24 Vingt-quatre
11 Onze 25 Vingt-cinq
12 Douze 26 Vingt-six
13 Treize 27 Vingt-sept
14 Quatorze 28 Vingt-huit
15 Quinze 29 Vingt-neuf
16 Seize 30 Trente
17 Dix-sept 31 Trente et un
18 Dix-huit 32 Trente-deux
19 Dix-neuf 33 Trente-trois
20 Vingt 34 Trente-quatre
21 Vingt et un 35 Trente-cinq
22 Vingt-deux 36 Trente-six
23 Vingt-trois   Numbers 10-36
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 )
Bravo Oscar
Charlie Papa
Delta Quebec (Fr: Québec)
Echo Romeo   (Fr: Roméo )
Foxtrot Sierra
Golf Tango
Hotel Uniform (Fr: Uniforme )
India Victor
Juliet (Fr: Juliette) Whisky
Kilo X-Ray
Lima Yankee
Mike Zulu (Fr: Zoulou )

Whole Phonetic Alphabet


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.

T U V W X Y Z Whole Alphabet


Airfield position


Verticale overhead
Vent Arrière downwind 
Vent Arrière prolongée late downwind
Etape de Base base leg
Dernier Virage final turn
Longue Finale long final
Finale final
Courte Finale short final
Piste Dégagée runway vacated

Sortie de zone—vers le nord
Sortie de zone—vers le sud
Sortie de zone—vers l’est   
Sortie de zone—vers l’ouest 

Sortie de circuit—vers le nord
Sortie de circuit—vers le sud
Sortie de circuit—vers l’est   
Sortie de circuit—vers l’ouest

leaving the area—to the north
leaving the area—to the south
leaving the area—to the east
leaving the area—to the west
leaving the circuit—to the north
leaving the circuit—to the south
leaving the circuit—to the east
leaving the circuit—to the west

Point d’arrêt holding point
Virage a gauche left turn
Virage a droite right turn
Vent Traversier crosswind   


Other useful terms


Affirme affirm
Altitude altitude
Atterrissage  landing
Circuit à gauche left-hand circuit
Circuit à droite right-hand circuit
Complet in this context, a full-stop landing
Décollage taking-off
Fréquence frequency
Négatif negative
Nuages cloud
Pieds feet
Piste  runway
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

For further study of French radiotelephony, I can recommend
La Maîtrise de la Radio pour pilote privé et pilote professionnel (CD-ROM) which is available from www.amazon.fr or www.boutique.aero

We would welcome comments on all aspects of French air traffic control, including those which are outside the scope of this article.      


I would like to acknowledge the contributions of those who assisted with the checking of content and French R/T phraseology:

Gorges Thety—Flying Instructor, Aéro-club de Limoges
Jean Pierre Neymond—Air Traffic Controller, Limoges (Bellegarde) Airport
Esteban Dwarka—Member, Aéro-club de Limoges (French audio recording)


Excellent idea,this "french radio call" is a perfect basic package for english spoken pilots to operate safely on uncontrolled airfield
Bravo SUE

Hi Pierre

many thanks for your message.I am delighted that you have seen my new site.
My next project is to write a similar file, this time the audio will be in English for the French pilots who wish to fly to England or Europe, I hope that this will make it easier for them to speak with the English speaking controllers.

Very impressive - well done. It will help me learn the French radio patter and also the pronunciation...

Hi Roger

Thank you for your posting I am delighted to be of assistance to you.
Good luck with your French Radio calls in the future!Perhaps you can report back to us after putting it into practice in France.

Hi Sue
This is great, just what I have been looking for.
I did visit you 2 years ago when you were away.
Went flying with Philippe at the aero club (twice)
We especially remember the mushroom pickers and your husbands socks catching fire in the lounge!!!
Hope to see you in 2008
George and Mary.

Hi George

i am delighted that you are enjoying the site.We usually add something new each day so keep watching this space.

It would be superb if you can make the time to visit me in 2008.Please give me plenty of notice as i get very booked up in the summer months.

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In