Channel 9 Communication Explained

I wrote the article about Channel 9 of Flight Control Center. I posted the communication between the pilots and air traffic control centers. However, I am not sure of what the message is about. I sent an email to George, my friend who is actually a pilot of the United Airlines. Here is his answer. Used with permission and with little modification. The quoted text is from George.


Interestingly, although I heard it is required to use English to do the communication, most of the conversation in the audio is in Chinese. It is the same situation when we fly near Tokyo Narita Airport. They are using a language I am not very sure whether it is English or Japanese – I just cannot get a single word besides the numbers.

Good to hear from you; I am sorry I am so late in responding. Here are some answers to your questions; BTW you can use my comments.

English is the official international aviation language. International flights will communicate in English. Domestic flights will communicate in their own language.

PuDong has both domestic (Chinese) and International flights. When the controllers communicate with us (United 857) they will do it in English. When the communicate with a domestic flight they will do it in their own language. As pilots we try to have good SA (Situational Awareness) by knowing what aircraft are around us and what they are doing. This helps us plan our approach and have an expectation of what Air Traffic Control might do with us. It is obviously harder in a foreign country when domestic flights are communicating in another language. Maybe you can answer this for me. In your tape are the domestic flights speaking in Mandarin or do they sometimes use Shanghaiese?

In the audio above, a brief transcript is like this:

  • “United 857, turn right heading 300” (The controller instructs United Flight 857 to turn right to a heading of 300 degrees. The pilot on UA 857 responds to confirm “Right Heading 300, United 857”)
  • The following transmissions were not in English and I find your translation interesting. It is a little different than we would hear in English but it might be because they are speaking to domestic crews and everything is in meters for them.
  • (Descend to an altitude of 1200 meters above sea level. I would have assumed the controller would have said “descend to 1200 meters” and the pilot should have responded the same way but I am not familiar with the Chinese Domestic communication requirements. In America, ATC (Air Traffic Control) might instruct a flight to “descend and maintain one two thousand (which means 12000 feet)” and the crew might respond with an abbreviated confirmation as “down to 12”)
  • “247D 2400” “247D keeps 2400″(I would assume maintain 2400 meters)
  • “MU2155 turn left, to 070” my guess is, they want them to turn left

    and heading to 70 degree? (Yes, you are correct. All headings are given in three digits, so 70 degrees is Heading 070)

  • “MU2155 ..” This is the flight from Yinchuan to Shanghai via Xi’an. They are scheduled to land at 12:15 PM.
  • “FM92142 down 600” I guess this means lower down to 600 meter level, and if this is the case, the previous 12 may mean 1200 meter altitude. (I assume it is to descend to 600 meters, but the terminology is a little different than I am used to)
  • From the communication above, I have the impression that all the planes are lineup as a big circle surrounding the Pudong Airport, and gradually lower the altitude to land. It turned out that we finally landed at runway 16 – the runway east of the T2, near the sea, from the north to south.

    (You are basically correct. We do line up to land but not necessarily in a big CIRCLE around PuDong Airport. Remember that aircraft are coming in from all directions. If they came in without any organization then there would be chaos in the space around PuDong. PuDong Airport controllers know how many miles they need between aircraft to sequence them safely to the airport and what ATC does is adjust our spacing as we arrive. Actually, our spacing starts as we leave SFO but that is another detailed story. The last controllers we speak to are typically the Japanese (assuming our flight path was across the Pacific, and not over Russia). As the Japanese controllers transfer us to the ShangHai controllers they space us a certain amount, then the ShangHai controllers will space us more accurately as we approach the airport and transfer us to the airport controllers. It is PVG Approach Control that needs the most accurate spacing and that is probably what is on your recordings. They achieve the correct spacing by instructing specific aircraft adjust their speed. If that does not work then they will instruct aircraft to change direction to increase or decrease the spacing. What I described is only for aircraft coming in from the east. Remember there could be aircraft coming in from the north and west. All these are sequenced using similar procedures. BTW there is very little “circling” around the airport, except in poor weather condition. But that too, is another story. For the record, the FAA requires that you turn off electronic items for takeoff and landing. At United Airlines our policy is to remind you passing through 18,000 feet.

    Below is another clip I recorded at the time when we were at range of control center of Japan. Anyone can understand any word from the conversation? I cannot.

    In fact I am sending this to you from NRT (Narita -Tokyo). I find the Japanese controllers one of the hardest to understand and have on occasion had to confirm their instructions several times. However, after gaining experience with a certain set of controllers it gets easier. You might find it strange that I find the London controllers hard to understand at times and they speak my native language, but that’s another story. Now for the translation:

    Controller: “… 671, fly heading 250 for spacing, …” (Not sure of last part)

    Singapore 671: “250 Heading, Singapore 671.”

    Controller: “Northwest 72 descend to reach one one thousand (11,000 feet) by Natch (a place).” I did not understand the rest but I assume it was the altimeter setting based on the pilot’s reply

    Northwest 72: “OK we’ll descend one one thousand at Natch at. Is that correct, Northwest 72?”

    Controller: “Northwest 72, affirm (affirmative), cross Natch at one one thousand.”

    Northwest 72: “Cross Natch one one thousand, two niner eight two (29.82 is the altimeter setting), Northwest 72.”

    Hope this helps,


    2 thoughts on “Channel 9 Communication Explained

    1. Once I was on my way from Shanghai to Vancouver, and unfortunately we had to make an emergency landing in Tokoy. As we safely landed, they provided the arrangement very fast which really impressed me. However, their English is also very ‘impressive’~~ I wonder how come in such a well developed country most of their population can not speak English well.

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