The Official Aviation Alphabet by ICAO

Well known by the pilots and the air traffic controllers, the aviation alphabet is part of our routine as well as in the army (Navy, etc.). Each letter of the alphabet has a word associated with it. The aim of this alphabet is to transmit the right letter or code in order to avoid confusion (“n” and “m” “d” and “p” etc.).

Aviation Alphabet: History

The first official phonetic or aviation alphabet came up in 1921 approved by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Neverless, there was kind of an unofficial alphabet already used by the Royal Navy during the World War 1, very far from the one we are used nowadays.

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World War One Phonetic AlphabetApples, Butter, Charlie, Duff, Edward, Freddy, George, Harry, Ink, Johnnie, King, London, Monkey, Nuts, Orange, Pudding, Queenie, Robert, Sugar, Tommy, Uncle, Vinegar, Willie, Xerxes, Yellow, Zebra (source: wikipedia)

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The experience gained with this alphabet resulted in several changes between 1910’s and 1950’s. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) developed a unique system in order to avoid discrepancies as a result of multiple alphabet systems. This is the one we are using on regular basis.

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Aviation Alphabet by ICAO

Alpha
Bravo
Charlie
Delta
Echo
Foxtrot
Golf
Hotel
India
Juliet
Kilo
Lima
Mike
November
Oscar
Papa
Quebec
Romeo
Sierra
Tango
Uniform
Victor
Whiskey
X-ray
Yankee
Zulu


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Video: Review the Aviation Alphabet and the pronunciation

When do we use the aviation alphabet:

For each weather situation and for each airport, air traffic controllers associates a letter with the actual weather conditions. A soon as the weather changes, the information letter changes as well. Pilots confirm on initial contact which weather information they have got.

The second usage can be to spell words or way points like “SOMKO” for example is Sierra, Oscar, Mike, Kilo, Oscar.

Some additional words:

Yes – “Affirm”
No – “Negative”
– “Wilco“: Will comply with the received information(s).
– “Roger“: Information understood and received.
– “Over” (not used in Aviation): End of transmission.
– “Nine” is replaced by “niner” in order to avoid confusion with “nein” (No) in German.

Did you know this?

– “Delta” is replaced by “Data”, “Dixie” or “David” at airports that have a majority of Delta Air Lines flights in order to avoid confusions (Delta Air Lines callsign is “Delta”).

Some funny things heard on the radio

– “We have whiskey on board”

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