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Should Radios Be Required At Non-Towered Airports?

Every year, runway incursions, traffic conflicts, and near-misses happen at non-towered airports around the country. And sometimes, they're caused by aircraft flying (legally) without a radio.

We're not going to pick a side in this article, but we will take a look at a NASA ASRS report where a non-transmitting aircraft caused a runway incursion, and we'll also review the AIM recommended radio procedures at non-towered airports.

When you finish the article, tell us your thoughts in the comments at the bottom, or send us an email here.

Report: Opposite Direction NORDO Aircraft

If you've spent significant time flying around non-towered airports, you've probably experienced aircraft in the pattern without a radio, aircraft transmitting incorrectly, and aircraft choosing not to give position reports at all. While the FAA highly encourages radio reports over Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies (CTAF) published for non-towered airports, there is no legal requirement for it.

Here's one example of what can happen when a non-transmitting aircraft lands, according to this NASA ASRS report...

I was training with my student 12 miles roughly north of ZZZ Airport. We decided to head to YYY to practice some landings. We tuned to their CTAF frequency and started listening to other aircraft that were in the traffic pattern at YYY. There were 2 or 3 and they were using Runway XX. We made our report 10 nm out of the airport, another report at 5 nm stating our intentions. We flew over the runway and entered the pattern on the downwind Runway XX reporting every position in the pattern.

We reported base Runway XX, final Runway XX. As we landed on Runway XX still rolling on the runway we noticed a Seneca landing on the opposite threshold, Runway XY. Not once did they report their position as they were coming down to the airport. The aircraft landed and bounced a bit, we thought they were going around but the aircraft came in our direction ignoring us, we were forced to run onto the grass to avoid a collision.

Flying Into Non-Towered Airports

If you're flying into or out of a non-towered airport, the FAA asks that you 'play it safe' and make radio calls if you're equipped. However, you aren't required to do so.

Here's what the FAA recommends in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) for radio calls.

According to the AIM, when you're 10 miles out from the airport, you should start monitoring the airport's CTAF frequency. This is also when you want to make your first radio call to let other airplanes know your intentions. In some cases, may want to overfly the airport before you enter the traffic pattern. Why would want to do that? It's a good way to check the airport and runway conditions and to see if other airplanes are operating at the airport (they may not be using the CTAF frequency).

If you do overfly the airport, you'll want to do it at 500-1000 feet above the traffic pattern. And while you're overflying, you also want to make radio calls on CTAF, announcing your current position, as well as what you're planning to do.

During the first part of your 45-degree angle to the downwind leg, you should make another radio call, letting other traffic in the area know where you are, and what you're doing.

On downwind, make another radio call, letting anyone monitoring CTAF know that you're on the downwind leg, and what runway you're planning to land on.

As you make radio calls in the traffic pattern, it's a good idea to state your specific location. Instead of saying "Laramie traffic, Cessna Skyhawk N9525V is on a downwind for runway 30," add that you're on a "left downwind for runway 30." If you're flying a right pattern, say that you're on a right downwind, right base, etc. This will better help pilots in the area visualize your location.

The rest of the traffic pattern continues this way in terms of making radio calls. Announce major position changes for each leg of the pattern, without overwhelming the frequency.

Recommended, But Not Required

You don't need to talk to anybody in Class E or G airspace. However, when you're flying into a non-towered Class E or G airport, the FAA recommends that you communicate your position at all times.

Their suggested calls are:

  • 10 miles away from the field
  • 5 miles away from the field
  • Airfield overflight (if necessary)
  • 45-degree entry to the downwind
  • Downwind
  • Base
  • Final

_Night Flier_

What Do You Think?

Regulations can put strain on financial and regulatory freedom for pilots. That being said, most rules are in place to keep us safe.

Should radio transmissions be required when operating to and from non-towered airports?

Tell us what you think in the comments below, or send us an email here.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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