Plane-speaking: 20 ways to ‘speak pilot’

At PrivateFly, our flight team includes pilots as well as all kinds of aviation experts. Excellent customer communication skills are essential in aviation, especially for pilots using voice procedures by radio. But it also has its own jargon which can sometimes sound like a foreign language.

So, here are just a few terms to help you translate the lingo on-board (and if you hear someone using these terms in a restaurant or at the supermarket, chances are they’re a pilot or an Avgeek!)

Aviation alphabet  – also known as the phonetic alphabet, this removes any confusion of letters or words over pilot radios in crowded airspace. A is for Alpha, B is for Bravo, I is for India, U is for Uniform… how many more do you know?

Base – crew-speak for their home airport, where the aircraft starts from and returns to.

Block time – when the aircraft leaves its blocks (on the ground under its own power) until it is on the blocks again at the arrival airport. This is different to the flight time, which is measured from take-off to landing. You might also hear ‘push back’ which refers to the aircraft moving away from its parking position.

Box – not just the black box, this is a term for the electronic hardware on board. Pilots may say they need a ‘box change’ and electronic parts in a modern aircraft are contained within a box (like a small draw) that pulls out easily to be swopped for a replacement. The black box is the name given to the box that houses the flight recording data. This is reinforced and contains a beacon to aid location.

Crew duty – this is period of time that a pilot (or other flight crew) is permitted to work in one continuous period without a rest (‘crew rest’).

Crosscheck – when pilots and crew check on each other’s tasks to verify them.

FBO – literally meaning ‘Fixed Base Operator’ this means the private jet centre or terminal at an airport with services for both crew and passengers. (Read more: What is a FBO?)

Go-around – if a pilot isn’t happy to make a landing or if Air Traffic Control (ATC) issue this instruction, they will initiate a circuit before attempting another landing. You might also hear ‘holding pattern’ which is when a pilot is awaiting ATC permission to start the landing approach.

Gone tech – this means that an aircraft has a technical fault and is not able to fly.

How’s the ride? – pilots talking to each other across the radios, checking on turbulence levels. Another word for turbulence, sometimes used by pilots is ‘chop’.

Mach – a measurement of speed relative to the speed of sound in air, with Mach 1 equating to the speed of sound. It is named after Ersnt Mach, an Austrian physicist, who first devised the measurement.

Mayday – most people would recognise this as the universal emergency distress term, but it’s not always known how it originated. The term comes from the French “m’aidez” (meaning “help me!”)

Met – pilots may talk about ‘checking the met’ or ‘met conditions’ – meaning the weather

Report time – the time the crew must be at the airport ready to start work, usually 30 to 60 minutes before the passengers arrive. PrivateFly crews are required to report 90 mins before the passengers to ensure maximum preparation and flexibility.

Roger – means affirmative, I’ve heard you (alternative av-speak for this is ‘A-firm’). Roger was previously used for the letter R in the phonetic alphabet during the war, before being replaced by Romeo (see aviation alphabet, above)

Wilco – means ‘I will comply’. Sometimes used in combination with ‘Roger’ as the term ‘Roger Wilco’ meaning ‘I’ve heard you and I will comply’.


The PrivateFly team speaks more than 13 languages (including Av-speak). For private jet pricing or advice contact us or call +44 (0) 1747 642 777 (24 hours)