Author Topic: European Atc Conversion Course For North American Pilots  (Read 4855 times)

Chris Liu

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You've reached the European Quick Conversion page. Reading through this material greatly helps you in getting the most from your flight and should take away all the hassle for both you and the controllers! This manual only covers IFR.

It's designed to help pilots who usually fly in North American airspace adjust to flying in Europe, talking through the key differences in a single and concise document. Unfortunately, these considerations mean that this document is not recommended for novice pilots.


Planning your route
European airspace is typically split in to corridors which contain airways. In between these corridors is airspace that is either uncontrolled (ICAO class G) or reserved for military use. Therefore, it is important that where possible you use airways and comply with standard routing guidelines. This can be a complicated and somewhat daunting task, so to help you out we've provided a list of websites that can supply and/or generate suitable flight plans.

Once you have a flightplan route, lookup the aerodrome charts and select a Standard Instrument Departure (SID) and Standard Terminal Arrival Route (STAR), if they are used at your origin and/or destination. The SID and STAR you choose should join up with your flight plan. Also remember to file a valid cruising altitude; European airspace generally follows semi-circular RVSM rules, so Eastbound flights fly at altitudes in odd thousands and Westbound flights fly at even thousands, although some work on a North/South basis (e.g. Italy, Portugal).

Remember: If you're struggling you can always send a private message to the controller, who will do their best to help you if they're not too busy.


Altimeter settings - Throughout the whole of Europe, you will never hear "altimeter" used to give the local pressure setting because it is referred to as "QNH". The QNH is given out in hectopascals (hPa). The standard QNH setting is 1013 (the same as 29.92). For example:
ATC: Fast air 345 Manchester QNH 1024
Pilot: QNH1024, Fastair 345
ATC: Fast air 345 Manchester QNH 993 hectopascals
Pilot: 993 hectopascals, Fastair 345
As you can see, the radiophony for this is really very simple. If your aircraft altimeter reads in inHg only, this formula converts the QNH into the American "altimeter" setting:
29.92 divided by 1013.2 multiplied by [Current QNH] which equals [QNH in inHg].


In an ICAO METAR, visibility is given in meters, rather than statue miles, and altimeter settings (known as QNH) given in hPa, as previously discussed. Here is a an example from Paris:
LFPG 082330Z 04007KT 3000 R09R/0800VP1500U BR FEW001 01/00 Q1027 NOSIG

The key differences from the FAA standard are:
International exampleN.A. equivalentDifference
3000 2SMVisibility is given in metres, rather than miles. 9999 signifies that visibility is greater than 10 kilometres (10,000 m).
R09R/0800VP1500U RVR is also issued in metres. In this instance it is between (signified by the V) 800m and more than the highest reportable value (signified by P1500) and there is an upward tendency (indicated by the U).
Q1017   A3003 "Altimeter setting" is known as QNH and issued in hPa (aka millibars) as discussed previously.
RMKUS style remarks are not issued on ICAO format METARs
CAVOK Ceiling and visibility okay (no clouds below 5000 ft AAL and visibility greater than 10 km (6 miles)


Transition altitudes - In the States, the transition altitude (TA) is always 18000ft; below this you would say your altitude in thousands and above it you would use Flight Levels  (and set your altimeter to 29.92/1013). The same rule still applies in Europe, but the transition altitudes (TAs) are much lower. They vary from 3000 ft up to 9000 ft depending on the country (and sometimes aerodrome!). Here is an FL40 (4000 ft) example:
ATC: Fastair 345 descend Flight Level Four Zero

Remember: Above transition altitude everything is referred to as flight levels.  If you take care to read back altitude and flight level clearances as issued, then you should not run in to any problems.

There is also a Transition Level (TL), which is normally set by ATC. In between TA and TL there is the transition layer, which ensures there is always 1000 ft separation between aircraft using QNH (the local altimeter setting) and those using standard pressure (1013 hPa / 29.92 inHg / flight levels). Aircraft may not cruise within this transition layer.


Clearance and SIDs
Clearances in Europe are generally more brief than their FAA standard counterparts. The easiest way to explain how they work is to show an example:
ATC: Fastair 345, cleared flight plan route to Manchester via the Buchel VOR at FL80, expect higher en route, departure frequency 128.95, squawk 5346.
Pilot: Cleared to Manchester via the Buchel VOR, FL80, higher en route, departure 128.95 squawking 5346.

That clearance was for a flight plan containing no Standard Instrument Departure (SID). If you file a SID, your clearance will be similar to this:
ATC: Fastair 345, cleared to Manchester via the OPALE 9 departure, squawk 5346.
Pilot: Cleared to Glasgow, TNT 4D departure, squawking 5346.

The reason for this briefness is that information like initial altitude and departure frequencies are listed in the airport's departure charts. A final thing to note about European SIDs is that you fly them immediately after leaving the runway, ATC do not clear or vector pilots to join them, as this is issued during the flightplan clearance above.

SIDs are identified by their termination point and an alphanumeric code (eg DVR 4G). Vectors are not usually given for SIDs.


If filing a STAR, the clearance to join it will be similar to the below:
ATC: Fast air 345 cleared on the DAYNE 2A arrival, descend when ready FL60 to be level by DAYNE.
Pilot: Cleared DAYNE 2A, will descend when ready FL60 to be level by DAYNE.

This is the same clearance as in America, but worded slightly differently. The example above means you should follow the routing given on the approach chart named (in this case the DAYNE 2A), and can begin descending whenever you feel is appropriate. You must be at FL60 (not 6,000 feet!) no later than DAYNE intersection.

STARs are usually named after where they terminate. From this point radar vectors for approach will be issued. The term "transition" is not used and the different routes terminating at a single waypoint will be identified by an alphanumeric code. For example, what would be called "LOGAN.LAM3" in the USA is refered to as a "LAM 3A"


A final note
Remember to readback phrases the same way you heard them. There are many minor differences in phraseology but generally controllers say these first and then you read them back, so I've not gone through all of those here.

Well done! You have completed the European Conversion Course for North American pilots. Enjoy your flight in Europe!
« Last Edit: Tue 25 Apr 2017, 13:35 by Chris Liu »

Jim Parish

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European Atc Conversion Course For North American Pilots
« Reply #1 on: Thu 18 Jul 2013, 17:02 »

Thanks for the info.  I have flown a bit throughout Europe (not nearly as much as North America of course), and certainly find it more of a challenge - I think in part because it is different than what I am used to, and also that some times it can get very busy, so when combined with my unfamiliarity it can make for exciting times!  :o  I have found the ATC folks to be great and usually happy to help get me through if I am slow on the uptake in European airspace.


This is a helpful guide!

Gerald Plotts

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Re: European Atc Conversion Course For North American Pilots
« Reply #2 on: Tue 25 Apr 2017, 12:38 »
Since I'm now flying vatsim almost exclusively in Europe, this has proven to be invaluable. I do have some trouble now and again trying to understand the accents especially in Germany and Norway. I'll get it though!
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Benjamin Hall

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Re: European Atc Conversion Course For North American Pilots
« Reply #3 on: Wed 26 Apr 2017, 20:03 »
Try Scottish or Georgia.  Even I struggle with those accents!

Robert Yunque

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Re: European Atc Conversion Course For North American Pilots
« Reply #4 on: Mon 29 May 2017, 08:02 »
I can see I made some mistakes on my first flight on Vatsim.  I have to get used to the more "muddled" voice of ATC also.  I'm used to the very clear Pilotedge voices from ATC.