FAA InFO Translates Canadian ATC Lingo

By Scott Spangler on February 29th, 2012

In an attempt to keep current with all aspects of aviation, I subscribe to all manner of e-mail updates. In this arena, the FAA is prolifically focused. My latest discovery is the InFO, short for Information For Operators.

InFOProduced by the FAA’s Flight Standards Service, these notices contain “valuable information for operators that should help them meet certain administrative, regulatory, or operational requirements with relatively low urgency or impact on safety.”

Initially, the idea of focusing on one difference between US and Canadian ATC phraseology might spark a giggle. After all, isn’t English the official language of aviation? How different or confusing could the phraseology used to issue a standard terminal arrival be?

George Bernard Shaw, an Irish playwright and journalist, indirectly answered this question when he wrote that the English and Americans are “two peoples separated by a common language.” Having reported several stories about Canadian aviation, I’ll second this with a hearty Roger THAT!

The two-page InFO concisely notes the difference between the US and NavCanada STAR phraseology. US pilots should be familiar with the “descend via” wording when ATC clears a flight for a published STAR. With this clearance is the unspoken but implicit “compliance with the lateral track and vertical profile of the STAR is required.”

If a US controller clears a flight following a STAR to “descent and maintain” a given altitude, “the aircraft may descend unrestricted to the assigned altitude,” unless ATC reissues the restrictions.

As of February 9, 2012, NavCanada instructs pilots “Via [STAR] descend to [altitude] or cleared to [approach procedure].” That sounds simple enough, doesn’t it, but what if NavCanada clears a STAR-following flight to  descend to a given altitude?

An American pilot who ignores the STAR’s altitude restrictions and immediately descends to the cleared altitude has a problem north of the border. The altitude requirements remain in force until the NavCanada controller specifically cancels them with “All STAR altitude restrictions canceled” after the altitude clearance.

Apparently the FAA created InFOs in 2006. (Peruse them all here.) The more I read them, the more I appreciated the effort of some unnamed FAAers. Most seem directed at commercial operators, but a good number, the the STAR difference, benefit anyone who flies into the situation addressed, and some are unexpectedly interesting. For example:

If you’ve ever had a phantom TCAS traffic advisory, were you flying over a US Navy vessel? Did you  know that noise-canceling headsets can also attenuate audible alarms and other environmental sounds? And what about briefing passengers about the presence and operation of inflatable seatbelts? –Scott Spangler

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2 Responses to “FAA InFO Translates Canadian ATC Lingo”

  1. Ron Says:

    Hmmm. No doubt this phraseology change is going to bite a few American air crews in the you-know-what.

  2. Martin Says:

    Maybe it’s time for everyone to start with ICAO phraseology, so we can clear all the confusion. Standard ICAO phraseology can be found in ICAO Doc 9432, ICAO Doc 4444 chapter 12 and Annex 10.

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