Ways to deal with a NORDO aircraft

January, 30, 2021 by

Aircraft can loose the ability to communicate due to technical issues. It happens infrequently in normal times and if there’s a known ATC related bug going around, it can happen more frequently. What do you do as the controller?

We commonly refer to these aircraft as “NORDO”, a common aviation term used to describe an aircraft that is flying without a radio. Controllers will use this term in chats while controlling to let others know that the pilot is having difficulties.

We will try our best to work around these aircraft. Here’s a few ways how you can work around a NORDO aircraft.

Once you realize the aircraft is NORDO, first alert your other controllers. This works sometimes, you then should check to see if they respond to commands sent. For example, if they follow heading changes. If they do comply they can hear you but can’t respond. That’s perfectly fine.

If they don’t comply, build a bubble around them. You can either, a, work around them, or b, if they are flying away from the airport you can then tell them to resume own navigation. They will then fly off into the realm confused and dazed but there is no need to intervene with an aircraft that is leaving the airspace because they will be of no conflict to other aircraft. If they turn back to the airport you can attempt to build a bubble for them to enter.

These can be fun to deal with, be prepared for it because it will and can happen.

Those are the choices for Approach. For Tower, all you can do is let the aircraft land. Give them priority for sequencing, they will not be able to follow a sequence they can’t hear.

Kyle Boas is the Founder of the IFATC Education Group. He is an IFATC Supervisor and Infinite Flight Appeals team member. — More