- Common Traffic Advisory Frequency
Many towered airports close their towers overnight, keeping the airport itself open for cargo operations and other activity. Pilots use the common frequency to coordinate their arrivals and departures safely, giving position reports and acknowledging other aircraft in the airfield traffic pattern.
In many locations, smaller airports use pilot-controlled lighting systems when it is uneconomical or inconvenient to have automated systems or staff to turn on the taxiway and runway lights. In Canada, the lighting system is accessed through an Aircraft Radio Control of Aerodrome Lighting (ARCAL) frequency which is often shared with the CTAF.
Two common CTAF allocations are UNICOM, a licensed non-government base station that provides air-to-ground communications (and vice versa) and may also serve as a CTAF when in operation, and MULTICOM, a frequency allocation (without a physical base station) that is reserved as a CTAF for airports without other facilities.
In Australia, there are many landing strips in remote locations that have CTAF operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are also CTAF(R) landing strips which require the aircraft intending to enter the area of operation to be fitted with a radio. The most common CTAF frequency is 126.7 at non towered aerodromes except for when two CTAF airports are near each other. Aerodromes using CTAF outside tower hours typically nominate a frequency that is used during tower hours.
One important note to all aviators: UNICOM and a CTAF are mutually exclusive. This distinction led to nearly disastrous consequences during hurricane Katrina as pilots flying into unfamiliar airports did not properly interpret their sectional map and communicated on the wrong frequency. UNICOM airports never have an operating control tower.
- Acronyms and abbreviations in avionics
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