What is the FRTOL?
The FRTOL (Flight Radio Telephony Operators Licence) is the radio licence you need to legally be able to use the radio in an aircraft. This includes built-in radios like the Trig sets in Airbourne’s fleet or handheld radios you find in some privately-owned microlights.
Everyone who flies and uses a radio needs an FRTOL licence (commonly referred to as an RT licence). That includes us as microlight pilots through to commercial airline pilots, even they need one too!
The FRTOL was introduced in the 80’s, there was a time that PPL pilots didn’t need a licence to operate the radio. However, this soon changed as the skies become more popular and borders between countries became more transparent. Like most things, a licence allows you to confirm that you are competent to be able to use the radio to communicate effectively and clearly which ultimately makes the skies safer for everyone, unarguably.
Why do I need an RT licence?
You don’t, well, it depends on what you want to do when you have your licence. If you’re flying weight shift microlights without a radio for example, then there’s no need for you to have an RT licence. However, if you’re planning on flying cross-country, to other airfields or even across international borders then yes, you need a licence and you should be using the radio. Some airspace and airfields require a radio and the benefits of using a radio far outweigh those of not having one. Safety is always the common denominator in these discussions, both yours, your passengers and those around you. The recommendation is – use the radio and have a licence.
I don’t like using the radio
Lots of people start off being afraid of the radio. The language is odd, there are acronyms, names, unusual ways of pronunciating some things to name a few. However, it is with practice that you’ll get a grip on these things. This is especially true if you’re using “student” in your calls. This acts as a signal to those whom you are talking to and they’ll be understanding in your usage of the radio! Keep practicing at home, in the car, listening online to radio chatter and even by listening from an airfield will all help. Ultimately, to get over your fear we recommend getting stuck in!
What you have to do for the FRTOL
There are effectively 2 things you have to do for the FRTOL.
The written exam
This is made up of 12 questions all orientated around the theory and practice of using a radio. We recommend making sure you revise thoroughly for the written exam by looking at the numerous areas on which you could be asked questions. The subjects are available in Form SRG 1171 on the CAA website alongside the requirements document from the CAA. You’ll get 20 minutes in which to complete it.
The oral exam
The oral exam is good fun! It’s like going flying and using the radio without the pressures of aviating and navigating! You’ll be hooked up to a system which allows you to change radio frequency talk and see if there’s emergency. Your examiner will be sitting in another room and he’ll be acting as ATC, FISO and other aircraft (if you’re lucky they may even try changing accents which adds to the interest!). You’ll have 30 minutes to prepare by using the pre-made PLOG, map of the route and a briefing sheet. These provide ample information to get you through the test. The examiner himself will provide lots of encouragement and help beforehand. You’ll be tested on all the major aspects of using the radio including emergencies, airspace entries and service requests. The exam itself usually takes 30 to 45 minutes to complete.
How can I study for the RT licence?
Here’s a list of suggestions and tips we have for how to study for your RT exam and pass:
- The AFE communications revision books are excellent and contain practice exams.
- Read the VFR relevant sections of CAP 413 (make sure it’s the latest version).
- The Safety Sense leaflets from the CAA are very relevant (and they give you a practice oral exam at the end), you can find the RT one here.
- Watch YouTube videos as there are many excellent pilots whom record their flights and their radio chatter which is great for practice and revision.
- Take up extra learning when the opportunity arises. This might be additional schooling at the flying school, separate evening classes or meeting up with fellow students.
- Trevor Thom’s Communications book is very good with lots of detail and good examples of fights and associated communications.
- Make scripts and create recordings to play at home, work or in the car. We know that many of our students have gotten family members involved with being the ATC using a script too.
- Talk to pilots, the school staff or other members of the flying club. There’s a plethora of knowledge and experience and people love to talk about flying!
- Create imaginary routes. Use your map, draw a route and create conversations and go through what you would say to who along the route you’ve just drawn.
- Learn the important bits like emergency codes, frequencies, acronyms and the readability scale.
- The oral exam is about procedure and not how well you talk. Don’t expect to be perfect, just make sure you give the right information at the right time.
How much does the FRTOL cost?
At the time of writing the costs are as follows (guidance only – please check using the CAA website):
- 2-day course in RT plus the written and oral test ~ £150
- Application paperwork and CAA fee – £73
Where can I get my RT licence completed?
We can arrange this for you at Airbourne Aviation but if you’re not a student of ours (why not?!) then there are plenty of CAA registered RT examiners that can make private arrangements with you to take the course. The CAA provides a useful list of examiners on their website.