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French radio and landing at "FR Only" airports"
The aim of this page is to provide some background information and a simplified guide on the use of French for R/T at airfields where this is compulsory.
It is a compilation of advice and experience gleaned over a number of years flying as a private pilot within the French aeroclub system, as well as working as a language proficiency examiner. It should be noted that this advice is not in any way official. It is simply the opinion of the author.
What do the rules say?
Under French regulations, the "language to be used for radiotelephony can be either French or English, unless aeronautical publications state otherwise".
In practice, the only case where aeronautical publications do state otherwise is on visual approach charts which indicate "FR Only" just next to the radio frequency.
An airport can be designated "French Only" for radio communications in one of four scenarios:
- At an uncontrolled airfield where the management (usually the local club) have decided to only allow French
- At an airfield with a FISO (AFIS) when outside of the FISO's hours of operation
- At an airfield with a FISO (AFIS) where the FISO is not qualified to provide a service in English (this is actually fairly common in France)
- At an airfield with full ATC, outside of the controller's hours of operation
So if it says "FR Only", can I land?"
It is worth remembering that the regulations only refer to the language used and not the one for which the pilot is qualified.
In any case, most EASA non-French speaking countries would not apply a French language qualification to your licence even if you were to obtain one! On that basis, there is nothing (at present) to stop you complying with the "FR Only" requirement by transmitting basic radio messages in French.
The basic premise of this guide
This page is most definitely not a "teach yourself French" type resource! If you really want to learn French seriously, there is no substitute for a proper teacher and regular practice (which I can also provide if needed).
My aim here is just to provide a simplified set of messages for non-French speaking pilots which are clear and concise. They essentially allow the pilot using them to tell other pilots on the frequency two important things:
1. I am here!
2. My French is lousy, don't press me too much!
Another thing which this guide will not teach you is how to understand what is being said by other pilots. This can only be achieved by experience. As always, the golden rule remains :
The commander is responsible for the conduct of the flight. Apply common sense and do not put yourself in danger!
Part 1: Where to start
Key things to learn
To start with, you should learn and be able to pronounce the numbers 1 to 36 inclusive. The free website Forvo is a fantastic resource for this.
2. Circuit legs
You should also learn the key circuit legs (click to hear the pronunciation).
Downwind = Vent Arrière
Base = Base
Final = Finale
3. Basic compass directions
North = Le Nord
South = Le Sud
East = l'Est
West = l'Ouest
Part 2: Simplified messages
Let's take an example of a common message you might hear at a sleepy uncontrolled airfield in the middle of the French countryside. For the purpose of the exercise, we'll use "Petaouchnouk"
"Petaouchnouk, F-ZGEG, PA28 avec 3 personnes à bord, nous roulons point d'arrêt A de la 29 pour un vol VFR à destination de Perpète-Les-Oies"
For the average non-French pilot, trying to remember and regurgitate a message like that in anything like a coherent fashion is simply not realistic. Aside from the pronunciation part, it uses a lot of mental energy which could be put to better use managing the aircraft.
When you really think about it, at an uncontrolled airfield, nobody listening really gives a fig about your aircraft type, your destination, or how many wine-soaked golf chums or airsick wives you have sitting in the back. They just need to know you are there and what you are doing.
On that basis, to simplify our messages, we can take the nouns relating to the key things we do on the ground (bladders aside) and break our messages down into 3 elements (click to hear the pronunciation):
Taxi = Roulage
Lineup = Alignement
Takeoff = Décollage
Using these basic terms, we can then construct very simplified but intelligible messages to let people know what we're doing. As a reminder, French runway numbers are pronounced as whole numbers and not as individual digits as in English, i.e. Runway 29 would be "vingt-neuf" and not "deux neuf"
Message 1: Apron to runway
Petaouchnouk, G-TEUB, roulage vingt-neuf
(G-TEUB, taxying runway 29)
Message 2: Lining up
G-TEUB, alignement vingt-neuf
(G-TEUB, lining up runway 29)
Message 3: Lining up
G-TEUB, décollage vingt-neuf
(G-TEUB, taking off runway 29)
Again, let's look at a commonly-heard radio message from an aircraft arriving at an uncontrolled airfield.
"Petaouchnouk, F-OUNE, DR400 avec 2 personnes à bord, en provenance de Poilu et à destination de vos installations, actuellement à l'est à 2,500 pieds QNH, nous rappelerons verticale dans 5 minutes"
Anyone who can remember that probably doesn't need to be reading this page!
For our purposes, we can once again take the key nouns relating to things we usually do in the air (mile-high club excluded) and put them together to create effective and intelligible messages
As a slight technical aside, the "overhead join" used in France is slightly different in the sense that the deadside is not normally used. The procedure is to arrive overhead the airfield at an altitude higher than the circuit height (500 ft is often applied as a rule of thumb, but is not an official requirement). You then fly for 30 seconds on the heading of the runway in use, before turning crosswind and descending to circuit height. Deadside joins are sometimes used when the overhead cannot be used, i.e. when there is parachute dropping or aerobatics going on, but with the difference that the descent to circuit height only takes place on the active side of the circuit.
Arrival = Arrivee
Overhead = Verticale
Join = Intégration
We can now construct our three basic messages.
Message 1: First message
Petaouchnouk, G-FOUF, arrivée par l'est, verticale dans 5 minutes
(G-FOUF, 5 minutes to the east, overhead in 5 minutes)
Message 2: Overhead and joining
G-FOUF, verticale, intégration vingt-neuf
(G-FOUF, overhead, joining for 29)
Message 3: Downwind
G-FOUF, vent arrière vingt neuf
(G-FOUF, downwind runway 29)
Coming soon !
- Procedures for French-Only AFIS Airfields