Review Policy on RTF Phraseology (Helicopters)

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Review Policy on RTF Phraseology (Helicopters)

45TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 27-31 March 2006

WP No. 94

 Review Policy on RTF Phraseology (Helicopters)

Presented by TOC


1.1.  This paper is prepared as part of the regular review of IFATCA policy.

1.2.  The current policy was adopted in 1981:

It is essential that controllers know whether they are dealing with helicopters or fixed wing aircraft. To ensure that no confusion can arise IFATCA policy is:

“Helicopter pilots should use the RTF callsign prefix ‘HELICOPTER’ on first contact with an ATSU, except when it is obvious from the callsign that the aircraft is a helicopter.”


1.3. This paper will review this policy and advise as to its current validity.


2.1.  The original WP29 1981 highlighted the issue pertaining to the fact that helicopters often operate from areas other than the active runway and that the use of the phraseology “ cleared for take-off/landing” is not appropriate to the operation of helicopters directly from/to the apron.

2.2.  In 1980, ICAO was conducting a review of helicopter operations through the Heliops Panel. In addition the ICAO RTF Study Group concluded that no special phraseologies were required to cover helicopter landing, take-off or ground manoeuvring. Response from MA’s at the time confirmed this view, except that several phrases appeared to be in use to cover airborne taxi manoeuvres e.g. Hover, hover-taxi, air-taxi. Of these “air-taxi” appears to be the most widely used phrase.

2.3.  Since that time ICAO has defined some elements of helicopter operations;

PANS ATM Doc 4444 para

The term ‘AIR TAXI’ shall be used when it is necessary for a helicopter to proceed at a slow speed above the surface, normally below 20 knots and in ground effect.


PANS ATM Doc 4444 para

The instruction ‘GROUND TAXI’ shall be used for the movement of a helicopter, in contact with the surface of the aerodrome, under its own power. This could be required for a helicopter fitted with wheels, to reduce rotor downwash.


PANS ATM Doc 4444 – Phraseologies

CLEARED FOR TAKE-OFF [FROM (location)] (present position, taxiway, final approach and take-off area, runway and number).

With no reference given to departing from the apron which was a concern in the original paper.

2.4.  Investigation reveals that there is no requirement to specify in RT communication the fact that the flight is a helicopter. It should be noted that all the above are different manoeuvres as expected from fixed wing aircraft and that the controller when not presented with information that it is a helicopter on initial call may be using assumption that he/she is dealing with a helicopter.

2.5.  Apart from para 2.3 and 2.4 above there is little other information or guidance material available within ICAO documentation. However, the UK has a reasonably busy helicopter environment associated mainly with oil exploration and development, and has developed additional guidance to their controllers which addresses the current policy with regard to departure from an area other than the manoeuvring area.

2.6.  UK

Helicopter Callsigns

The transmission of aircraft callsigns is described in CAP493 Appendix E Paragraph 3.2. Provision is made for the name of the aircraft manufacturer, or the aircraft model, to be used before the aircraft registration (in full or abbreviated form). If considered appropriate, the pilot of a helicopter or the controller may replace manufacturer’s name or aircraft model with the term ‘Helicopter’ where this may benefit the ATSU or other aircraft.

Full callsign: “Helicopter G-ABCD”

Abbreviation: “Helicopter CD”

However it should be noted that this not obligatory and is at the discretion of the pilot/controller.

Helicopter Phraseology for Take-Off and Landing

At aerodromes provided with ATC, when helicopters land or take-off at locations not on the manoeuvring area (e.g. aprons, maintenance areas, sites adjacent to the aerodrome), at locations not in sight of the VCR, or at unlit locations at night, the phrase ‘LAND AT YOUR DISCRETION’ or ‘TAKE-OFF AT YOUR DISCRETION’, as appropriate, shall be used to authorise the manoeuvres. Relevant traffic information on other aircraft (airborne or on the ground) shall also be passed.


3.1.  Investigation reveals that most of the concerns raised in the original paper although not addressed at the time have subsequently been resolved by ICAO namely “Air Taxi” and “Ground Taxi”. This leaves departure from other than the manoeuvring area and RTF use of “Helicopter”.

3.2.  The UK has issued guidance on phraseology for take-off, landing and the use of callsigns. However as it is discretionary it does not resolve the problem.

3.3.  The current policy does not address the problem that when a controller is faced with a call on RT he is not aware that he/she is working a helicopter or not. In ATC we are taught never to assume however it would appear that in helicopter operations by the fact that by the pilot reporting; air taxiing, ground taxiing or requesting departure from The apron that it is a helicopter. In the en-route environment there are no such clues.

3.4.  Following discussions it was agreed that as some MA’s already apply procedures to identify helicopters either in RT or in the registration, and that it provides a benefit to the ATCO, the policy should be retained.


It is recommended that:

4.1.  This paper is accepted as information material.

Last Update: September 29, 2020  

March 29, 2020   747   Jean-Francois Lepage    2006    

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