Air traffic control uses a unique blend of specialised words and phrases to avoid misunderstandings with people whose first language isn’t English.
Aviation acronyms decoded
Instrument Landing System
What aircraft use to guide them to touchdown on final approach.
Ground Movement Control
One of the control positions in the tower, it looks after aircraft moving around the taxiways.
Instrument Flight Rules
Adopted when flying with reference to instruments (almost all commercial traffic), not Visual Flight Rules, the norm for private pilots flying with reference to the surface.
One of the ground holding area names at Heathrow. Each has a theme; this one, for runway 27 Right, is based on planets and moons (other names include Saturn and Titan).
Approach Funnel Deviation Alerting System
Tells air traffic controllers if an aircraft is straying off course on final approach, so they can rectify the situation quickly.
Visual Control Room
A fancy word for the room at the top of the control tower.
Know the lingo
When a landing can’t be completed — often due to a blocked runway or poor weather.
A plane’s four-digit code, making it visible on radar — converted to a call sign so controllers can see it in their sector.
An aircraft’s altitude above a sea level pressure. All planes at high level are on the same setting so they can be separated vertically by at least 1,000ft.
A cabin crew member travelling in a passenger seat.
Call signs: the unique ‘nicknames’ used to identify different airlines
Shamrock: Aer Lingus
Speedbird: British Airways
Springbok: South African Airways
Flying Bulgaria: Bulgaria Air
Cactus: America West Airlines
Dynasty: China Airlines
Cedarjet: Middle East Airlines
Firebird: Cargo Logic
Bealine: British European Airlines
Clipper: Pan American World Airways
Bohai: Tianjin Airlines
Are you smart enough?
GCSE maths and English at grade 9-4 (A*-C): the minimum required qualifications to qualify for air traffic control training. Inspired? NATS (National Air Traffic Services) is currently recruiting. nats.aero/careers
Published in the October 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)