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Aviation Jargon

Alexandra O'Loughlin06 Feb 2017 Posted in: Insider, learning to fly, FTA, News, airlines, be a pilot, atpl

Aviation, like so many other industries, has its own use of jargon. These are words that are designed to be specific to people within the chosen industry or field they operate within. It can be easy for aviation enthusiasts to forget that terms such as an ‘ILS’ or ‘Waypoint’ are not common place to those outside of aviation. Below we have decrypted some of the jargon we use for a bit of fun and to widen people’s knowledge over the different terminology that has become second nature to us:


  • Angle of Attack – This is the angle between the chord line (an imaginary straight line that joins the forward and rear end of an aircraft wing) and the direction of the relative airflow. The amount of lift an aircraft wing creates is directly proportional to the angle of attack.

  • Expedite – It is a term most frequently used by Air Traffic Control and is usually used to encourage a pilot to hasten their actions. An example of where this might happen may be if you have to ‘Expedite’ the runway after landing, so as to move out of the way and vacate for the incoming traffic.

  • Flight Level – This is the vertical distance of an aircraft measured from a specific datum. This is usually based on a standard pressure setting of 1013 hectopascals which is set on an aircraft’s altimeter (altitude measuring device). The utilisation of flight levels allow for Air Traffic Control to enable sufficient separation between aircraft operating on the standard pressure setting.

  • Jet Stream – Basically a flat, tubular expanse of air, which is characterized by great speeds and strong gradients of speed at altitude. The world’s current longest flight in terms of distance, a route from Delhi – San Francisco operated by Air India, is a service that takes advantage of such jet streams. By flying east over the pacific, the airliner is able to fly with strong tailwinds in the jet stream (86 mph on the date the record was set). This allows it to not only take two hours off the flight time, but also allow the Boeing 777 to fly through 9,506 miles successfully without taking on board additional fuel. An amazing feat in both meteorological and technical terms! 

  • Mayday – This may be one of the easier concepts to understand, as it is a word that is used very often in popular culture. The word ‘Mayday’ is used as a distress signal and informs the Air Traffic frequency in use at the time that you are dealing with an emergency. Once the signal has been triggered, Air Traffic will then give priority to the aircraft in distress and will make whatever necessary arrangements they can to ensure a safe return or landing of the aircraft immediately. 

  • Mean Sea Level (MSL) – It is a datum that is used, measured off an average level of the top of the sea. This enables us to measure and calibrate an atmospheric altitude in which we fly in. At our home in Brighton City Airport, we are positioned right on the South Coast of England, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. This means that our elevation above sea level is only 7ft!

  • Overcast – This is a term that describes the level of cloud coverage in the sky. The classifications run in different levels, with overcast being the densest and signifying complete coverage. We measure cloud coverage in a series of ‘oktas’, which is basically one eighth of the sky coverage. OVERCAST signifies up to 8 oktas coverage and the lowest description is FEW clouds, which is usually only 1-2 oktas. The best conditions are usually described as ‘CAVOK’ (Ceiling and Visibility OK). This transcribes as there being no significant cloud below 5000ft and 10km or more visibility, which is rather extensive!

  • Pan Pan – Again something that bears a similarity to ‘Mayday’, but on a different level of alert. A ‘Pan Pan’ would be used as a radiotelephony call to signal that there has been an event occurring that requires urgent attention, however for the time being is not immediately life threatening. An example of using this call would be, say, if you had an engine failure on a multi engine aircraft. Whilst it is an emergency, a twin engine plane is designed and still perfectly capable to fly with one engine safely, therefore there is a high chance that the crew and passengers will manage to land safely and intact. However, if that second engine failed, then that would be the time to call a ‘Mayday’ as lives would then be more seriously endangered.

  • Say again – It virtually transcribes to exactly what you would expect it to mean. It is another way of either the pilot or Air Traffic getting you to repeat what you have just stated.

  • Taxiway – This is the part of the aerodrome that aircraft usually use to make their way to the beginning of the runway. At Brighton City Airport, these taxiways are either grass or asphalt surfaces.

  • Tempo – When analysing the weather, pilots can access the weather through a coded set of information that would look quite non-descript and confusing to the untrained eye. One of the terms used to describe the length of time that some variables such as wind, temperature and cloud cover last for is a ‘Tempo’. A tempo symbolises a condition that is meant to last temporarily between the set amount of hours that it has been forecasted for periods not exceeding one hour and are due to occur for less than half that time period in total.

  • Yaw – This refers to the movement of an aircraft on its vertical axis. The wind will quite often try to push an aircraft out of balance left and right in flight, which is called the ‘Yawing effect’. This is counteracted by pushing the rudder in the opposite direction to where the plane is wanting to move and this keeps the aircraft balanced.  

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