Airport pilot instruction vocabulary exercise part 1: Leaving the terminal gate

In order to both safely and quickly move a plane on the ground at an airport, pilots are in contact with controllers at the airport's air traffic control. These controllers give pilots instructions in English on both where and when to go to reach either the gate at the terminal or their departure runway (depending on if they have just arrived/landed or are departing/taking off from the airport).

Understanding the meaning of these instructions and how to respond is essential if you want to become either a pilot or air traffic controller.

In this first of four online exercises on aviation English vocabulary, I'll show you and explain both the process and the vocabulary/phrases used by controllers and pilots when planes leave the terminal gate at an airport.

Click here to do the next part of this exercise on instructions when moving around an airport.

Although the vocabulary used in this exercise is standard for instructions and communication between pilots and controllers, it may differ from what is sometimes used in some airports. But even if it does, once you the know the vocabulary here, you should have no problem understanding what a pilot or controller is saying.

Click here to see our other exercises on 'Aviation English vocabulary'.

Exercise: Leaving the terminal gate

Read the following conversation between Juan (a Spanish trainee pilot) and Peter (a professional pilot). Juan is practicing moving a plane on the ground from the terminal gate to the departure runway at an airport on a simulator. Peter is explaining to Juan the meaning of the aviation English vocabulary used to do this.

From the context, try to guess what the meaning of the words/phrases in bold are. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

In this exercise the names of different parts of an airport are used. If you are unsure what these are, I would recommend that you do our online exercise on 'Parts of an airport' before starting this exercise to learn them.

Peter:'So today Juan, you are going to practise on the simulator moving the plane from the gate at the terminal to arriving at the runway where you will take off.'

Juan:'Perfect. So I need to do a preflight check first?'


15 minutes later

Peter:'Now that all the passengers and luggage is boarded and the doors are closed. You need to make a request to the controller at ramp control for a pushback.'

Juan:'That's when a tractor/tug pushes the plane backwards from the gate on the taxiway, isn't it?'

Peter:'Yes. You won't get a pushback until you have permission from the controller to do it. To request one, you have to contact the controller. Then tell them what plane you are, where you are and that you are ready to push. Then just wait for the controller to clear your request.'

Juan:'So, I would say, 'United 231 at gate 8, ready to push'.'

Peter:'That's right. So do it.'

20 seconds later

Juan:'Done it. I've got a message from the ramp controller clearing me to be pushed back to the taxiway. It also says 'contact ground controller at 117.4'.'

Peter:'When a controller gives you a contact instruction, it simply means you have to speak with somebody on the radio. With the instruction 'contact ground controller at 117.4', because you'll be on a taxiway, responsibility for your plane will pass to a controller at ground control. So you'll need to change the radio frequency to 117.4 and contact them to get further instructions.'

2 minutes later, after being pushed back on to a taxiway

Juan:'So now what do I do?'

Peter:'As I said before, you need to contact the new controller.'

Juan:'And say what?'

Peter:'You want to start moving to the departure runway. But you can't do that before getting cleared. Which means getting permission to do something from the controller.'

Juan:'So, do I say I want to start moving to the runway?'

Peter:'When you contact the controller at ground control, you have to tell them that you are ready to taxi.'


Peter:'But you also have to tell them which plane you are and where you are before you say you are 'ready to taxi'. So tell them 'Ground control. United 231 at taxiway A, ready to taxi'.'

Juan:'Why do I have to start it with 'ground control'?'

Peter:'When it's the first contact by radio with any control section (e.g. ground control, tower control etc...), you should start the message with the name of the section you are calling. So go on, request 'ready to taxi'.'

1 minute later, after requesting 'ready to taxi'

Juan:'So what now?'

Peter:'When the controller responds with taxi to, it means that you are cleared to start moving to the runway.'

Juan:'But which runway? There are three at this airport. And by which route?'

Peter:'When the controller says 'taxi to', they'll inform you which runway you have to go to and by which route. Look, the ground controller has responded with this message 'United 231, taxi to runway 30 via K and S, hold short of runway 14'.'

Juan:'So, I'm taking off on runway 30 and the route I have to follow to the runway is by taxiways K and S. But what does 'hold short of runway 14' mean?'

Peter:'Peter: Don't worry about that now, I'll explain what that means later. But you need to give the controller a readback of the instructions he has given you before you can start moving.'

Juan:'When you say readback, you mean that I need to repeat the instructions and route?'

Peter:'That's right. So tell them 'United 231, taxi to runway 30 via K and S, hold short of runway 14'.'

10 seconds later

Juan:'Done it.'

Peter:'So start moving.'

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Quiz: Airport pilot instruction vocabulary part 1

Below is a definition/description of each of the words in bold from the above text. Now choose the word/phrase from the question's selection box which you believe answers each question. Only use one word/phrase once. Click on the "Check Answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

When the answer is correct, two icons will appear next to the question. The first is an Additional Information Icon "". Click on this for extra information on the word/phrase. The second is a Pronunciation Icon "". Click on this to listen to the pronunciation of the word/phrase.

1. What a pilot says to a controller when they want permission to both start moving towards the runway and receive directions/a route for getting there, is

Ready to taxi:
(phrase). This is a request made to ground control by a pilot after they have they have been pushed back from the gate on to a taxiway. It's basically the pilot asking a controller at ground control for permission to start taxing to the departure runway (and to which) and to be given a route to get there.

Normally, when the pilot is 'ready to tax' they will call ground control. They will give their call sign (e.g. 'United 437'), where they are ('at taxiway A') and then say 'ready to taxi'. For example, 'Ground control. United 437 at taxiway A, ready to taxi.'. They will then wait for a controller to contact them.

The phrase 'requesting clearance to tax' can also be used instead.


Ready to taxi:


2. An instruction from a controller to a pilot which means they have to speak to somebody on the radio, is

(verb) When a plane is on the ground (after landing or before takeoff) at an airport, a pilot will normally have to speak to different air traffic controllers. The reason why is that different parts of their journey from the gate at the terminal to the runway where they take off (or vice versa) are looked after by 3 different sections of controllers.

When planes are leaving/arriving at the ramp/apron, they receive instructions from the ramp/apron control. When planes are moving from the ramp/apron to the runway (or vice versa), they receive instructions from ground control. When they are at the runway (for taking off or landing), they receive instructions from the tower/local control.

When the responsibility of one controller has been completed (e.g. a plane has been successfully moved to the runway for takeoff) they will pass the pilot to another controller (e.g. a controller in tower control). When this happens, the controller will instruct the pilot that they need to change their radio frequency to be in contact with the new controller. They will do this by saying 'contact', followed by the section of air traffic control they need to contact (e.g. ramp, ground or tower) and the frequency to contact them on. For example, 'United 4531, contact ground on 121.45'.

The pilot will then change the frequency of their communication radio to the one they have been given. They will continue on that radio frequency until instructed to change by the new air traffic controller. For example, 'United 4531, contact tower on 121.95'.

You can also use 'call' with the same meaning. For example, 'United 4531, call tower on 121.95'.




3. When a pilot has to repeat an instruction back to the controller who has given it them, it is called a

(noun) This is when a pilot has to repeat the instructions given to them by a controller. Although pilots don't 'read back' all the instructions they are given by controller they always have to repeat important instructions. For example, if they are told to stop (called 'hold short') at a certain place on their route or when receiving permission to line up on the runway for takeoff (called 'line up and wait').

As most pilots know which types of controller instructions they have to repeat/'read back', controllers don't normally say this phrase. They normally will only do so when a pilot hasn't repeated to them what they are required to do. For example, 'United 521, read back instructions'.




4. The name given for a plane being moved backwards from the terminal gate by a tractor/tug, is a

(noun) This is when a plane is moved from the terminal gate backwards by a tractor or tug.

Normally, a plane is 'pushed back' by the tug/tractor onto a taxiway. From here, it can start to taxi by itself to the departure runway.

When a pilot wants a 'pushback', they inform the controller at ramp control that they are 'ready to push'.




5. An instruction from a controller, which both gives permission to a pilot to start moving their plane towards the runway and gives a route to follow, is

Taxi to:
(verb) This is an instruction given by a controller to a pilot to tell them to both move their plane and where. After 'taxi to', the controller at ground control will tell the pilot where they have to go (e.g. runway 15, taxiway T etc...) and by which route (e.g. 'via taxiways K and S'). For example, 'United 624, taxi to T via K and S'. In addition, they will also tell them where they have to stop (which is called 'hold short').

For example, 'United 543, taxi to runway 30 via K and S, hold short of runway 14'.

The pilot is required to repeat these instructions to the controller before they start.

'taxi to' is normally used when a plane starts their journey on the ground (i.e. after landing or after leaving the gate) to give the pilot the route.


Taxi to:


6. An instruction given by controllers to pilots which basically means they are authorised/permitted to do an action (e.g. to be pushed back from the gate), is

(verb) This is an instruction given by the controller to a pilot. It basically means that they are permitted/allowed to do something. Normally, this is used for major actions (e.g. taking off, crossing a runway, a pushback).

When used as an instruction, it is followed by 'to' and then by the action they have been given permission to do. For example, 'United 162, cleared to cross runway 17L'.




7. What a pilot says to a controller when they want their plane pushed on to a taxiway from a terminal gate, is

Ready to push:
(phrase) Can also use 'request to push'. This is when the pilot informs the controller in ramp control that they are ready for a 'pushback'. A 'pushback' is when a plane is pushed backwards by a tractor/tug from the gate on the ramp/apron on to a taxiway. Once they have been give permission from the controller (who'll say 'cleared for push'), the driver of the tractor/tug will be informed and do the pushback.

In many airports, the pilot will also need to get permission to start their engines at the same time. To do this, they will add 'and start' to the phrase. For example, 'United 435 at gate 8, ready to push and start'.

When the pilot is cleared to do this by the controller at ramp control, the controller will tell them where they should be facing when on the taxiway and ask them to contact ground control (with a radio frequency) once in position. Ground control is responsible for moving aircraft up to the runways from this point.


Ready to push:


Click here to do the next part of this exercise on instructions when moving around an airport.


Now that you understand the vocabulary, practise it by creating sentences in English with the new words/phrases.

Useful Links

Apart from the other aviation English exercises on my website, there are some other (but not many) useful free online resources for improving your aviation English vocabulary. Below are links to these web pages: