Reader Question – What is CTAF?

Hello to all my loyal readers.  We have a question regarding the use of CTAF on the VATSIM network and I felt it was worthy to share with everyone.

Hello Jerry, I occasionally fly on the VATSIM network and have been curious about the use of the CTAF frequency versus just the standard unicom frequency of 122.800.  Why the change?  And can you share any tips on finding the correct CTAF frequency for any given airport?  Thank you, Dennis.

Well Dennis….you bring up a very good question and one I should have probably addressed long ago.  VATSIM announced back around the first of the year that beginning on 1 March 2024 they would be trialing a new procedure for uncontrolled airspace whereby VATSIM pilots would need to tune into the local CTAF frequency versus just using the old standard UNICOM frequency of 122.800.

What is CTAF?

Let’s first explain what CTAF means.  CTAF stands for Common Traffic Advisory Frequency.  It’s a real world process for carrying our airport advisory practices while operating to or from an airport without an operating control tower.  Each airport will have a unique CTAF frequency which is published on charts for pilots to use.

Why is VATSIM making this change?

As discussed in the VATSIM announcement from earlier this year, VATSIM is trialing this change for North American starting 1 March 2024.  This change is to more closely align with real world operating procedures and to better reduce radio chatter.

When to use CTAF versus 122.800?

Essentially, the use of the published CTAF frequency is only needed when an airport isn’t staffed by an online VATSIM controller.  However, if an airport controller isn’t online, pilots should use the CTAF frequency for their departing or arrival airport.  What I’ve found to work for me is to use the CTAF frequency within a 30-40 mile radius of the airport.  So when departing an uncontrolled airport, I will tune to the CTAF frequency for that airport and announce my intentions.  Once I depart and am above 10,000 feet, I’ll then switch to the old UNICOM freq of 122.800.

How to locate CTAF Frequencies?

There are many different ways to locate the CTAF frequency for a given airport.  Charts are certainly one way.  However, there’s an even better way and that is to type .ctaf xxxx (dot ctaf and airport ICAO) into the VATSIM client message box and hit enter.  A few moments later, you’ll receive a response with the correct CTAF frequency.  Alternatively, you can also use the VATSIM AIP site to search for the correct CTAF frequency.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, not everyone is catching onto the new CTAF process.  The trial is well into its 3rd month and many pilots are still using the old UNICOM frequency of 122.800 when they should be using CTAF.  So…my advice, when flying on the VATSIM network do your best to stay informed to all the current processes and use CTAF.

I hope this helps explain the new CTAF frequency process for VATSIM.  If you are flying on the VATSIM network and doing so in North American, I would encourage you to follow the correct procedures not only for your full enjoyment, but also that of others.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

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