ICAO Phonetic Alphabet

What is the phonetic alphabet?

The NATO phonetic alphabet or more formally the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet, is the most commonly used spelling dictionary in the aviation industry. The NATO alphabet assigns code words to all of the letters in the English alphabet so that combinations of letters (and numbers) can be pronounced and understood by those who transmit and receive voice messages by radio or telephone regardless of their native language (2009)3. The main reason it is used is so that the message that is trying to be conveyed over the radio can be clearly understood. This alphabet is very important to all pilots as it allows them to transmit messages and radio calls to Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) and other traffic in the area that they are flying.


The first internationally recognized phonetic alphabet was adopted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 1927. In 1932 the ITU made some changes to the existing alphabet and was then adopted by the International Commission for Air Navigation, the predecessor of the ICAO to be used in civil aviation until World War II. It continued to be used by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) until about 1965 (2009)3.

Amsterdam Baltimore Casablanca Denmark Edison Florida Gallipoli Havana Italia Jerusalem Kilogramme Liverpool Madagascar New_York Oslo Paris Quebec Roma Santiago Tripoli Upsala Valencia Washington Xanthippe Yokohama Zurich

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) presented a draft for a single universal alphabet to ICAO in 1947, which had common sounds to English, French and Spanish with a resulting revised alphabet being implemented on November 1, 1951 (2009)3.

Alfa Bravo Coca Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliett Kilo Lima Metro Nectar Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Union Victor Whisky Extra Yankee Zulu

Problems were found with this new list, that some users changed back to the old "Able Baker" alphabet. The main concern was that there was a confusion with the words like Delta, Nectar, Victor, and Extra, or the unintelligibility of other words under poor receiving conditions were the main problems (2009)3. The final version of the alphabet was implemented by the ICAO on 1 March 1956 and then adopted shortly after by the ITU as they govern all international radio communications, along with also being adopted by all radio operators (military, civilian or amateur) (2009)3.

Alphabet and Pronounciation.

When transmitting individual letters, the following standard words should be used. The syallables that should be stressed are printed in capital letters. So in the word "Alfa", the first syallable "AL" is emphasised so it is pronounced AL-fah (2004)1.


Word Pronunciation IPA from ICAO Word Pronunciation IPA from ICAO
A - ALFA AL fah ˈælfɑ N - NOVEMBER no VEM ber noˈvembə
B - BRAVO BRAH voh ˈbrɑːˈvo O - OSCAR OSS car ˈɔskɑ
C - CHARLIE CHAR lee OR SHAR lee ˈtʃɑːli or ˈʃɑːli P - PAPA pah PAH pəˈpɑ
D - DELTA DELL tah ˈdeltɑ Q - QUEBEC keh BECK keˈbek
E - ECHO ECK oh ˈeko R - ROMEO ROW me oh ˈroːmiˑo
F - FOXTROT FOKS trot ˈfɔkstrɔt S - SIERRA see AIR rah siˈerɑ
G - GOLF golf ɡʌlf [sic] T - TANGO TANG go ˈtænɡo [sic]
H - HOTEL hoh TEL hoːˈtel U - UNIFORM YOU nee form OR OO nee form ˈjuːnifɔːm or ˈuːnifɔrm [sic]
I - INDIA IN dee ah ˈindiˑɑ V - VICTOR VIK tah ˈviktɑ
J - JULIET JEW lee ETT ˈdʒuːliˑˈet W - WHISKEY WISS key ˈwiski
K - KILO KEY loh ˈkiːlo X - X-RAY ECKS ray ˈeksˈrei
L - LIMA LEE mah ˈliːmɑ Y - YANKEE YANG key ˈjænki [sic]
M - MIKE mike mɑik Z - ZULU ZOO loo ˈzuːluː


Number Pronunciation
0 ZE-RO 7 SEV en
2 TOO 9 NIN er
4 FOW er Hundred HUN dred
5 FIFE Thousand TOU SAND

Morse Code

Morse code is a type of character encoding that transmits telegraphic information using rhythm. Morse code uses a standardized sequence of short and long elements to represent the letters, numerals, punctuation and special characters of a given message (2009)2 as can be seen in the FAA phonetic alphabet and morse code chart above. The short and long elements can be formed by sounds, marks, or pulses, in on off keying and are commonly known as "dots" and "dashes" or "dits" and "dahs" (2009)2. The speed of the Morse code is measured in words per minute (WPM) or characters per minute, while fixed-length data forms of telecommunication transmission are usually measured in baud or bps (2009)2 .

The Morse code is currently used by amateur radio operators, although it is no longer a requirement for amateur licensing in many countries. In the professional field, pilots and air traffic controllers are usually familiar with Morse code and so require a basic understnading of how it works. Navigational aids in the field of aviation, such as VORs and NDBs, continuously transmit their identity in Morse code (2009)2. Morse code is useful especially in emergency situations for signaling and can be sent by way of improvised sources that can be easily "keyed" on and off, making Morse code one of the most versatile methods of telecommunication

International Morse Code. (image embedded from Wikipedia on 11 September 2009)
1. WAGTENDONK, W. & WAGTENDONK, W. (2004). Flight Radio. Bay of Plenty, New Zealand: Aviation Theory Centre (NZ) Ltd.
2. WIKIPEDIA (2009). Morse Code. Retrieved from Wikipedia on 6 September 2009.
3. WIKIPEDIA (2009). NATO phonetic alphabet. Retrieved from Wikipedia on 2 September 2009.

Want to know more?

Morse Code
This Wikipedia page offers a further explanation of Morse code and its many uses.

Contributors to this page

Authors / Editors


Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License