Today’s post is inspired by conversations born out of Sporty’s post The 7 deadly sins of radio communications.

When I initially weighed in, I hadn’t actually read the post, but I have now and I encourage you to do the same.

What actually prompted me to weigh in were questions regarding the phrase “roger.” In the list of sins it is number two, but that’s really only half of the story. When I weighed in I wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t really on the same page as the list. That’s because “roger” is misused a lot.

“Roger is not a read back.”

This is exactly what the original post addressed regarding “roger.” If you listen to radio communications near airports for very long, I’m sure you’ll hear it misused this way at least once.

“Cessna 234SF, Knoxville Tower, cross runway 5 left.”


According to AIM 4-3-18, you must actually read back any clearances relating to runways. This rules out any shortcuts, like “wilco” or simply reading back your call sign, but that’s the intent. Why? It is important that the controller knows you know what you are cleared to do. So, what should happen in the above situation is this:

“Cessna 234SF, Knoxville Tower, cross runway 5 left.”

“Knoxville Tower, Cessna 234SF, cross runway 5 left.”

There are times for brevity, but this isn’t one of them. When you are cleared or not cleared to do anything regarding a runway, just read it back.

Roger vs. Wilco–what’s the difference?

That brings me to the point I made; most pilots misuse roger, anyway. In fact I would wager it is the most misused piece of radio terminology. According to the Pilot/Controller Glossary available in the AIM, possibly the most informative and least read aviation publication, “roger” is a means of acknowledging you received all of the preceding transmission. Nothing more. It is not much of a tool, in fact, it’s mostly filler.

“Wilco,” on the other hand, is a semi-useful phrase that competes with “affirmative” and “negative” as what is actually meant when most people say, “roger.” It means, “I will comply.” It is useful for brevity when you don’t actually have to read anything back. I used it a lot when I worked at an airport and we’d be driving around in movement areas. As for flying, I’ve only used it a few times.

There is a taxiway down the middle of my home airport that was closed for resurfacing toward the end of my training. If you didn’t hit the numbers and make the first turn, which is at about 500 feet, you had to taxi to the middle of the 9000 feet of runway to turn. Since it is a busy airport with plenty of scheduled jet traffic in a Class C, tower would routinely ask for prop swingers to keep the speed up on the roll out to reduce the amount of time they were on the runway. The exchange always went something like:

“Cessna 21693, keep the speed up on roll out.”

“Wilco, 693.”

I can’t really think of any other times I’ve used “wilco” and even then all I really had to say was, “693.” The rest of the time a readback was required or “affirmative”/”negative” were the appropriate response.

Going forward, any time you’re tempted to say, “roger,” consider whether you actually need to read the instruction back or some other response is correct. A couple of rules of thumb to remember: if you “will comply,” say wilco; if the answer is yes or no, go with affirmative or negative.

What’s your radio sin? Weigh in in the comments.

Mine’s “with you;” it just slips out.