Aviation Communications

Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
May 2021


Discuss the following information in terms of effective communication with aircraft. Involve the pilot in this discussion.

  • Establish an air-to-ground frequency on the fire, and make sure everyone knows what it is.
  • Avoid switching frequencies in the middle of an operational period.
  • Discuss Guard frequencies:
    • How they work.
    • When to use them.
    • What frequencies are established for aircraft in your area?
  • Aviation communication should be clear, concise, and to the point.
  • Use standard terminology that can be understood by everyone you are talking to. Do not use local slang.
  • Know what you want to say before you key the microphone. Don’t think and talk at the same time.
  • Before you key your microphone to talk, ensure you are not cutting into another transmission.
  • Identify who you want to talk to by the call sign and identify yourself in every transmission.
  • If the frequency gets congested, request another frequency. Upon receipt, ensure that all people who need to be on the new frequency transfer to that frequency.
  • When giving ground descriptions, describe the location as if you are viewing it from the direction an aircraft would be traveling. Use a common frame of reference for the sender and receiver.
  • Use easily understandable directions, such as north, south, east, west, 2 o’clock, 9 o’clock, left 20 degrees, right 45 degrees, etc.
  • When giving directions, always give them in relation to the pilot’s perspective.


Additional Resources

Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
10 Standard Firefighting Orders, PMS 110 
18 Watch Out Situations, PMS 118
10 & 18 Poster, PMS 110-18
NWCG Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center


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