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Camden Bruno


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Starting March 1, 2024, the VATSIM United States Division (VATUSA) began trialing the use of real-world Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies (CTAF). This trial is set to last for up to 6 months. VATSIM has traditionally used a universal, network-wide "UNICOM" frequency of 122.8 for when air traffic control is offline. Instead, pilots flying within the United States who are not under ATC coverage should now review airport charts and/or the VATSIM AIP to identify the correct CTAF for their airport, and use that to communicate intentions within the airport area.


When landing at an untowered airport—such as Windham Airport (KIJD) near Hartford—you would use the charted CTAF of 122.975 to communicate with other pilots. If you are landing a towered airport like Boston (KBOS) when no ATC is available, the published Tower frequency of 128.8 would be used. Enroute (i.e., once outside of the airport area), the standard 122.8 frequency would be used.


More information, including locating the correct frequency for the airport you’re flying into, is available at vats.im/ctaf-trial.


Since this change, a few detail-oriented BVA members have called attention to the fact that BVA's website, reference material, and documentation (including WINGS flights) still direct pilots to utilize "UNICOM." Due to the fact that VATSIM and VATUSA have advertised this change as a temporary, 6 month "trial", BVA will not be updating the aforementioned material to the reflect the use of CTAF. At the end of the trial, should the use of CTAF become a permanent procedure, all BVA material will be updated to align with same.


What is CTAF?


Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies (CTAF) are frequencies that are used at airports without an operating control tower (also called non-towered, uncontrolled, or pilot-controlled airports). A CTAF allows pilots to coordinate amongst themselves to ensure appropriate aircraft separation. Pilots will advise other aircraft on CTAF of their position and intentions. When a part-time tower closes, the airport reverts to using CTAF. More information from PilotInstitute, Thrust Flight.


How is CTAF different from UNICOM?


VATSIM has traditionally used the term UNICOM to indicate a common frequency (122.8) that all pilots are expected to utilize to coordinate intentions with other pilots. In the real world, UNICOM frequencies are used to communicate with non-ATC ground stations such as Fixed Base Operators (FBOs) at an airport. The correct terminology for the frequencies used by pilots to coordinate amongst themselves is CTAF.


Does CTAF mean I don’t have to look out for other aircraft?


No! It is important to remember that pilots in a given area will not all be on the same CTAF. It is critical to remain vigilant, use your resources, and keep your head out the window. Proper CTAF use is more important going into larger, busy airports, but it is still important to continue looking for other traffic. CTAF is a tool to coordinate with other pilots, but it does not replace a traffic scan. First priority is always to see and avoid other traffic, followed by using your tools such as ADS-B (on VATSIM this would be a map or your traffic display), third priority is CTAF.


  Cam Bruno (BN)

  Community Manager

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