Learn the Lingo

It’s virtually impossible to talk about aviation without unleashing a slew of abbreviations and industry jargon. Soooo, I’ll do my best to translate here so you can keep up!

Air Traffic Control (ATC): Air Traffic Controllers manage traffic flow into and out of airports and across the country. They are primarily responsible for separation of air traffic, especially during IFR conditions (see IFR below). The main types of controllers are Ground Controllers who direct traffic on the ground, Tower Controllers who are responsible for all aircraft that are landing or departing, Approach Controllers who are responsible for organizing and sequencing arriving and departing aircraft in a terminal area, and Center Controllers who are responsible for separating enroute traffic.

DeadheadTraveling on company business in the main cabin as a passenger, not a working crewmember. Most times, crewmembers deadhead in order to reposition to another location where the crewmember then meets up with an airplane and works as an active crewmember from that point on.

General Aviation: Private, non-airline, non-scheduled aviation operations. This category includes everything form small two seat airplanes through corporate jets.

Go Around: There are times when a pilot is landing a plane when he or she needs to abort the landing. This could be due to another plane still being on the runway, the pilot being uncomfortable with how the landing is going, or any number of other reasons. When a pilot conducts a go around, he or she will add power, raise the gear, and basically go into a “takeoff” mode before returning for another approach.

Holding: Sometimes it becomes necessary to put a flight on pause. Since there’s no way to just pull over to the side of the road, pilots are trained to conduct holding patterns. These patterns are shaped like oval racetracks around a specified point in the sky. Most of the time, flights are given holding instructions to help sequence arrival aircraft into an airport that is too congested at that moment. It is not uncommon to see planes “stacked up” in the holding pattern, meaning several planes are flying the racetrack patterns around the same point just at different altitudes.

IFR/VFR: Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and Visual Flight Rules (VFR). All flights are conducted under one of these two sets of rules. The most basic flying is VFR which is navigation done primarily by roads, rivers, railroads and other visual landmarks outside of the flight deck. Flights conducted VFR must strictly are prohibited from flying through clouds or in poor visibility conditions. Beyond that, VFR flights tend to have greater flexibility as they do not have to conform with stringent standards required of IFR flights, which are conducted solely by reference to the flight instruments, GPS and ground-based navigational aids. Most professional flying and all flying about 18,000 feet in the United States must be done IFR. Learning to fly using IFR requires advanced pilot certification.

Major Legacy Airlines: Airlines that can trace their origins to some of the first airlines to operate in the United States. Today, this term largely refers to the following airlines: American, Delta (merged with former legacy airline Northwest), United (currently merging with legacy airline Continental) and US Airways.

Non-Revenue Travel: Standby, space-available, unconfirmed travel, usually referring to airline employees using company provided passes in lieu of purchased tickets. Open and available seats on a flight are generally assigned based on an employee’s seniority. Sometimes used as a verb such as “I was non-revving with my family.”

Turn: A type of trip that involves a flight to a different city and a return flight back to the original point of departure. For example, an Orlando turn from Chicago would be ORD (Chicago) – MCO (Orlando) – ORD.

Vectors: A vector is a fancy word that basically means Air Traffic Control is instructing a particular aircraft to fly a specific magnetic heading instead of navigating on its own with GPS or another naviagional aid.

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