"Unable" A Magic Word!

See today’s “Pilot Work Shop Tip of the Day” at pilotsworkshop.com "Unable is not a dirty word! Max Sends



I’ve started to use it at work.

“Can you get those stats to me by this afternoon”


Didn’t go down well, can’t think why.


@leodhasach Also can confirm this result for “stand by”.


Don’t abuse it though

ATC: “Cleared for landing [Censored callsign] Runway 24L”

Pilot: “Unable because I don’t want to follow your instructions.”

ATC: “Please follow instructions.”

Pilot: “Unable.”


@AR_AR. @Boeing707 @Leodhasach… My minds made up “Unable” is a magic word don’t confuse this issue with facts! Power Currupts ! ATC’s Absolute Power is pretty neat if your a Controller! There a time and place for everything but always consider the source & the situation. Max Sends


I was watching a Youtube video earlier on that neatly illustrates what you’re saying Max. It’s actually worth watching the whole thing for the wake turbulence she gets at that start. Properly scary!


Your sense of humor never fails to disappoint


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@Carson@Leodhasach… I think Toby has very subtle humor, it’s the dregs from the peat from the bottom of the kegs he slurps up every Eve that send him off on a tangent from time to time. He’s a Scot after all consider the sourse. I visualize him in the front of the line blue face and all crying “Freedom”! Max Sends


To the top

I agree that in the real world, “Unable” is a valuable tool for a pilot when talking to ATC.

However in my experience controlling on Advanced, it appears to me that pilots are typically using “Unable” to mean, “I don’t want to” or, “I don’t know why you’re asking me to do that, so ‘Unable’.”

If I request a plane make a 360 for spacing, or vector a plane in a certain direction or to a certain altitude, it’s not because I’m on an ATC power trip and enjoy sending planes in random directions. It’s because I’m working multiple planes and trying to sequence them in as realistic way as I can.

In my experience flying on Advanced, I’ve never been given a command from a controller that merited an “Unable” reply, so with all of that in mind when controlling I typically treat “Unable” with a large degree of skepticism.

So I’m curious: pilots that are replying “Unable” on Advanced, are you doing so for any other reasons than the ones I guessed?



lol! ATC rekt! Use that on your parents or your teacher at school, you’ll get grounded/detention.

@Startibartfast1…, Your right Josh to a degree. As I said every situation is dependant on the source and situation. I rarely use the term but on occasion I’ve used it usually when I’m situation aware and get a speed, alt or direction Chg that make no sence to me. I’ll routinely go with a Correction, Freq Chg, Gooday and fly to an alternate only because of the abuse so previlant on the Advance and the quick trigger finger of most advanced Controlers who fail to consider the source. If I were in the chair I’d accept the “unable” from a high number flyer and wait to see if his unable was a sham, one false move and I’d give him the gun. As it is the use of the term is the trigger for most advanced Controllers. I’ve experience the vector to no where, the unnecessary 360 ect.
I used to fight it out via PM, I’ve won and lost a few. Bottom line the term " unable" need to be rationalized before its accepted as an in your face. High tempo ops considered. Max Sends

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I just want to say that it is sometimes awkward and intimidating when you are in a tiny GA and approaching say San Diego where there is a lot of air traffic that is bigger and faster than you. Controllers, I know you job is tough already, but if you could take into consideration that a Cirrus (or Cessna) can’t do much more than 100ish its without coming in way too fast for landing. I know that when I fly GA I try to go as fast as I can, so I can’t really go much faster than that. If I’m asked to maintain best forward speed, I’m in a bit of a pickle…


That’s a good point


@Rock77… Surprised you did’nt get the GA’s don’t belong at B’s by some miscreant Rock! Excellant example of an “Unable” situation. Max Sends


Haha. Yeah, GA goes everywhere, for those who are unsure.


Nice pic, this is what the ICAO manual of radiotelephony says:


I’m sure that will be on the cards . Unable … Then there will be a list to choose from and if it ain’t a good enough reason …make left 360 you little maggot NOW!!!


I did it once…and got ghosted.

Approach situation, about to intercept localizer, already a little below Glideslope,
747-8, quite heavy

due to some finger trouble on my iPad (autopilot buttons) i maneuvered myself into an almost stall situation, while trying to achieve to many things at a time:

  • getting on the ILS
  • slowing down
  • changing the configuration (flaps, trim etc.)

there is a saying:
aviate, navigate, communicate

I tried to “aviate” , meaning to recover and get everything stable again (which in the end worked), while ATC asked me to make a right turn. Still struggling with the situation I replied “unable”. ATC repeated the last transmission, I hit the unable again, and made it back to a somewhat stabilized approach, then I saw the ghosted message.

If the controller had known what I am in, he probably would not have ghosted me, but due to the limitations of IF comm, he probably thought I just didn’t want to comply.