Why You Should Always Give A Cold Call

| November 13, 2020 | By: Severe VFR
The Cold Call Title Card Featuring A Control Tower

What Is A Cold Call

A cold call is simply a radio transmission that gets the controller's attention.

A cold call contains two things: the controlling station's name and your callsign. For example:

 Chicago Approach, Skylane One Seven Mike Tango

or,

Oshkosh Tower, Cirrus Three Five Seven Sierra

The Purpose Of The Cold Call

The cold call serves two critical purposes:

  1. Getting the controllers attention
  2. Eliminating excessive radio transmissions

You can think of a cold call as a way to introduce yourself to air traffic control. It is a way of telling air traffic control that you are present in and around their airspace and request services. However, the difference between a cold call and an initial contact call is that the cold call is a brief transmission to let air traffic control know that you exist. 

 Air traffic controllers may be working multiple frequencies, coordinating with other controllers, and even talking to pilots by calling them on the phone. They can do this and still control traffic because they can plan ahead with the various tools they have available to them. However, many of these tools rely on aircraft filing and activating IFR flight plans or VFR aircraft actively using flight following.

Any aircraft not on an IFR flight plan or using VFR flight following is practically invisible to air traffic control. Yes, these aircraft VFR aircraft do appear on the controller's scope as a radar return. However, the controller receives minimal information. Commonly, the only information transmitted to controllers for VFR targets is the aircraft's ground speed and altitude.

This can create a problem when a VFR aircraft attempts to contact a controlling agency for the first time. Since the air traffic controller is not expecting the VFR aircraft, if the pilot calls an air traffic controller who is busy doing any of the other required tasks, the controller may miss the VFR aircraft's call sign and subsequent request. This then requires the pilot to repeat their message, clogging the frequency with unnecessary transmissions. In busy airspace, these additional transmissions can create avoidable frustration. 

When To Perform A Cold Call

Cold calls should be used when the controller is not expecting you. 

Generally, this is the first time contacting any controller. However, a cold call should not be used when handed off from one controller to the next. 

When being handed off from one controller to another, the previous controller will inform the next controller that you will be contacting them before giving you a frequency change. This allows the next controller to expect and actively listen for you.

When being handed off from one controller to the next, you can give your entire initial contact call without giving a cold call. 

For example:

Chicago Approach, Skylane One Seven Mike Tango, One Thousand Niner Hundred, Climbing Six Thousand, Left Turn Heading Two Four Zero

Since controlling agencies will handoff aircraft from one controller to the next, any aircraft operating under IFR generally never needs to perform a cold call. VFR aircraft, not using flight following, generally are not talking to controlling agencies and should give a cold call. Some pilots state this information on the initial cold call, as well as stating that they have a request during their cold call:

Chicago Approach, Skylane One Seven Mike Tango, VFR, Request

The Cold Call In Practice

Typically, the dialogue that occurs when a pilot performs a cold call is as follows:

 PilotOshkosh Tower, Skylane One Seven Mike Tango, VFR, Request

TowerSkylane One Seven Mike Tango, Oshkosh Tower, Say Request

PilotOshkosh Tower, Skylane One Seven Mike Tango, One Zero Miles North Of The Field At Three Thousand With Information Alpha, Request Full Stop Landing

TowerSkylane One Seven Mike Tango, Make Straight In Runway 18, Report 3 Mile Final

PilotMake Straight In Runway 18, Skylane One Seven Mike Tango

 Without the cold call, the dialogue may go as follows:

 PilotOshkosh Tower, Skylane One Seven Mike Tango, One Zero Miles North Of The Field At Three Thousand With Information Alpha, Request Full Stop Landing

TowerLast Aircraft Calling Say Call Sign

PilotSkylane One Seven Mike Tango

TowerSkylane One Seven Mike Tango, Oshkosh Tower, Go Ahead

PilotOshkosh Tower, Skylane One Seven Mike Tango, One Zero Miles North Of The Field At Three Thousand With Information Alpha, Request Full Stop Landing

Tower: Skylane One Seven Mike Tango, Make Straight In Runway 18, Report 3 Mile Final

PilotMake Straight In Runway 18, Report 3 Mile Final, Skylane One Seven Mike Tango

 As you can see, the number of radio transmissions required to have the same information relayed increases when a cold call is not used. The pilot was also required to repeat the same information twice, reducing the amount of time other aircraft have for their transmissions.

Some pilots disagree with the cold call. Those who disagree say that the cold call is an unnecessary transmission and uses up more time than not using a cold call. However, from our experience, this is not the case. In the end, it is up to you to perform a cold call or not. Only your personal experience can determine if a cold call is needed. 

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