Telling ATC you're a "student pilot" when you're not

Philippe Leybaert
  • Telling ATC you're a "student pilot" when you're not Philippe Leybaert

    Many pilots who are not native English speakers have a hard time when they start flying in the U.S. because of the pace and sometimes elaborate instructions given to pilots by controllers.

    The advice given by instructors is to tell the controller that you're a student pilot, even though you may be a fully licensed (private) pilot. The effect should be that the controller will be more lenient towards the pilot and speak slower.

    I would first of all like to know if it is legal to tell a controller that you're a student pilot even if you're not (I know, all pilots should see themselves as students for the rest of their life, but that's another topic).

    Also, isn't there a chance that you'd get refused entry in class B airspace because you're announcing that you're a student pilot?

  • An experienced ATC controller giving my flying club a presentation suggested that as you said, we're all students, since we are always learning.

    His recommendation is to say 'student pilot' whenever we feel like we need extra patience and clarity regardless of how long we've had our PPL.

    That said, I wouldn't over use it unless I really felt like I needed some extra patience, especially in a class B.

  • Is it legal? Sure. As others have pointed out it's also pretty darn honest!

    I'm a private pilot. I'm also a student pilot, working on my instrument rating.

    When I'm done with that I'll probably work on a complex endorsement and a commercial rating, maybe even a CFI if I get ambitious, and a tailwheel endorsement is on my list.

    If I can find a rich benefactor to pay for it a multi-engine rating or even a seaplane rating would be fun to pursue. And I'll sell my soul for a DC-3 type rating.

    Even if I collect all the ratings I want I would still go up every month or so with an instructor just to kick around and drill stuff that I wouldn't normally do, and I work through phases of the FAA WINGS program, which is certainly designed as a training/learning experience.

    Might a controller deny you clearance into specific airspace if you tell them you're a student? Sure.
    But they might deny you the clearance anyway - maybe they're busy, or maybe they're just in a bad mood.


    Does it matter?
    I don't think so. I identified myself as a student pilot maybe five times in my flight training, all while doing required "supervised solo" work at the local airport.
    In my case I've always been comfortable with radio communication, so it wasn't an issue from that standpoint, and I've never felt that I needed any "extra patience" from ATC - they tend to be a very patient lot, even when I screw up (a few legendary local grouches aside).

    Remember:
    On the ATC Frequency, no one knows you're a dog...er, student

  • It's a bad idea to give false information to a controller as a matter of practice. Instead of calling yourself a student when you're not, it would be better to say you're unfamiliar with the area or that your English is not perfect.

    Controllers are almost always accommodating to less-than-proficient pilots and will usually make allowances whenever time and traffic permits.

    If your English is not good, be sure and use simple, direct phraseology. Read the AIM to become familiar with the common phrases used with ATC. Even something as simple as hearing "radar identified" in Canada instead of the usual U.S. phrase "radar contact" has caused many a native English speaker to reply "say again?"

Related questions and answers
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