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Line Up and Wait

Posted by on January 13, 2010 36 Comments Category : Flight Instructor Blog Tags :

As reported in this morning’s AvFlash news, the FAA is soon going to implement a change from “Position and Hold” to “Line Up and Wait” in order to conform with international phraseology standards.  This change is expected to occur in mid-year 2010.  In fact, if you fly in and out of Canadian airspace you know that this particular phraseology has already been in use for sometime (since about March of 2008).

For those who are new to this phrase, here is a basic primer on this new phraseology:

Current Phraseology:

“Taxi into Position” or “Taxi to Position and Wait”

New Phraseology:

“Line Up” or “Line Up and Wait”

Definition: Used by ATC to inform a pilot to taxi onto the departure runway in takeoff position and wait (hold). It is not authorization for takeoff. It is used when takeoff clearance cannot immediately be issued because of traffic or other reasons.

I think short term this might be a change some may grumble about I think overall this is a good change.  I believe that standards only work when applied universally across the board.  The more exceptions that are made to a standard the better chance you have at injecting confusion and error into the system.   This not only helps U.S. pilots flying internationally but also helps reduce confusion from foreign pilots who are flying domestically within the U.S.

What are your thoughts about line up and wait?


  1. Doug on Jan 13, 2010

    I think that this change is horrible. It’s not nearly as descriptive as Taxi in to position and hold. That tells the pilots exactly what to do. Line up and wait???? It sounds too wishy washy. And line up on WHAT? And wait?? What if I get tired of waiting? Can I depart. Hold means HOLD. Don’t go anywhere.

    I think that there will be far more American pilots confused by this than foreign pilots that are used to hearing this new phraseology.

    FAA, be prepared for a HUGE increase in runway incursions!

  2. Paul on Jan 13, 2010

    While I do agree with you Doug that “taxi into position and hold” is much more descriptive, the problem I have is that we are the only ICAO country to use this phraseology. It’s hard to call something “standard” if it isn’t….well, standard across the board. Look at this table:

    Line Up Table

    That in my view, is the problem. You have all these other countries standardizing one phrase, with the US being the lone exception. I would have been fine if ICAO adopted “position and hold” but unfortunately, they didn’t.

  3. paul on Jan 13, 2010

    I’m all for standards so I like it, but I do agree that if I heard it for the first time without any knowledge I’d probably have no idea what the tower wanted me to actually do.

  4. Eric on Jan 13, 2010

    I’ll get used to it. I’m at an advantage of already knowing the terminology, but it’ll play hell with students and renters. Especially since KPAE tower has just started issuing position and hold instructions again after several years without doing so.

    I’ve wondered why, lately, the US is switching to international standards instead of setting them. We did pretty much get the whole commercial aviation ball rolling, after all! 🙂

  5. Andrew on Jan 13, 2010

    If you trained people from the getgo to understand what this meant, then I think there wouldn’t be much of a problem. Right now “position and hold” can sound too similar to “position in hold” which is what I thought they were saying for a long time. “Line up and wait” doesn’t make any sense though, because if you’re being told to taxi out onto the runway and wait, you’re not lining up *behind* anybody.

  6. Jason Schappert on Jan 13, 2010

    OOO Great. My students think phraseology is confusing enough as it is. Wait until I tell them it’s changing!

  7. Jim DeLaHunt on Jan 13, 2010

    I’m a private pilot in Canada. As the article mentioned, we just went through a similar phraseology change a couple of years ago. It really was no big deal to learn.

    Overall I think it’s a good tradeoff for US (and Canadian) pilots to pay a short-term cost of learning something new, for the long-term benefit of having aviation phraseology world-wide be more consistent. Think how much safer it will be if the US controllers say what visit pilots from abroad expect. Not to mention how much easier it will be on your next round-the-world or exotic-vacation flight, once you are accustomed to the phraseology that the controllers there use. 🙂

  8. Paul on Jan 13, 2010

    I thank all of you for your comments. Whether you agree with the decision or not, this is obviously going to require some conscious effort until it becomes routine and a normal part of your aviation vocabulary. I am concerned about the impact it will have on runway incursion incidents. I know the FAA has been proud of the fact that incursions have been decreasing and I would hate to see this decision impact that. Maybe this is the last piece of the safety puzzle and will cut down incursions at airports with international ops. Only time will tell.


  9. Vincent on Jan 14, 2010


    as a European pilot, I’ve never heard anything else than “Line-up and wait”. When it comes to phraseology, the question is always the same: what can be confusing or misunderstood over a bad radio transmission.

    To my non-US ears, “Taxi into position” sounds very close to “taxi to holding position”. Line- up is always associated to a clearance to enter a runway. Usually, the runway is given as part of the clearance: “Line-up runway 23”. No doubt it is very clear this way… no ?

  10. Paul on Jan 14, 2010


    Thanks for your comment. I think your comment shows how the correctness of a particular phrase is highly relative. What I mean by that is why do words have the meanings that they do? After a while the words you use everyday gain a meaning within the context of the activity. I think eventually US pilots will think that “line up and wait” is the correct phrase and wonder why we ever used a phrase like “position and hold”. It all comes down to what you use is correct. Think of how many other words in the English language we justify that way. Why do we drive on a parkway but park in the driveway? Shouldn’t that be changed? Obviously it won’t but that just shows how certain words gain a meaning within the language even when from an outside perspective it doesn’t make any sense. I’m not a linguist but I think this change rubs some people because it touches something pretty central to how individuals accept communication and how difficult that can be to change (especially in the English language).


  11. Sylvia on Jan 15, 2010

    I think it makes sense but then as a pilot in Europe, I would. 🙂

    Still, “taxi” (to my mind) could mean to a number of places – the instruction on its own is not clear. Whereas “line up” can *only* mean the active runway, specifically at take-off position. So it’s not a question of why the meaning is there but specifically avoiding any ambiguity.

    I taxi the entire time I am moving on the ground but I only line up in one very specific circumstance.

  12. Richard Moffett on Jan 23, 2010

    If you think that’s confusing, don’t fly overseas. Wait until you get: “Behind the Airbus 320 on short final, Line up Runway XX and Wait, Behind.”

    “Line Up” and “Wait” are, I think a pretty clear commands by themselves, while “Hold”, as in “Taxi into Position and Hold” assumes the words “in position” as in “Taxi into position and hold IN POSITION”.

  13. B-Rad on Mar 02, 2010

    So let me be the first to recommend the “WAIT SHORT LINE”…..

  14. arturowing on Apr 06, 2010

    Dear Paul,

    I’ve got a question regarding phraseology. When I did my restricted radio op certificate, they told me, even if at the ICAO phraseology it is still present, that the words WILCO and ROGER are not longer in use, due to simply reason that they didn’t confirm if I understood well or missunderstood what to do. So my question is, did you confirm that?
    kind regards from Buenos Aires


  15. Wingdude on Aug 16, 2010

    dumb change. could easily be confused with “dine up and date”, or “wine up and mate”, or…

  16. Jonathan Boudreaux on Aug 26, 2010

    The U.S. is the only country using “position and hold”. The rest of the world uses the ICAO “line up and wait”. Why should the U.S. change to match the rest of the world? The U.S. has the busiest, most complex, yet safest air traffic control system in the world. Why should we change?

  17. boeingflyer242 on Aug 26, 2010

    An ATC once told me, the whole reason behind the change to line up and wait is because some years ago, there were many runway incursions that started because aircraft waiting for takeoff clearance were told to position and hold but instead, according to some pilots, they thought they heard POSITION AND ROLL, resulting in a change to line up and wait. Don’t know if it’s true or not but it sounds valid.

  18. Dave on Sep 07, 2010

    Might be confused with “Position and Roll”???

    When does ATC ever issue that instruction?

    That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.

    How many airplanes are in the air right now over the United States, and how many in the rest of the entire world. Is this the tail wagging the dog again?

  19. Larry on Sep 15, 2010

    Not only do I disagree with the change on many, many grounds,… the FAA did not finish the job. See Line Up and Wait FAA Notice Number: NOTC2554

    ATC will continue to use the phrase, eg: American 123 cleared for takeoff, 737 traffic on runway 35 is “holding in position.”

    If “Line up and wait” is so much better that “Taxi in to position and hold,” then why isn’t the phrase, “737 traffic on runway 35 is “Lined up and waiting,” being substituted for “traffic holding in position?”

    This is half-baked, government-sanctioned butt kissing in its dumbest form.

    “Taxi in to position and hold” is extremely specific, can NOT be confused with the ONLY LEGITIMATE takeoff clearance of “Cleared for takeoff” and is used hundreds of times a day, perhaps thousands, in the safest AND most pioneering aviation country on earth.

    But hey, who am I? Just a CFI trying to tell students why ICAO language is better than one that works. That should ease their concerns.

    Good grief, Charlie Brown!

  20. Dave on Sep 15, 2010

    Seems any phrase can be misunderstood. When I first read “line up and wait” I thought that was telling me to get in some line… not line up on the runway. Now that I’ve read the reasons why, it is fine with me. Simple and easily understood once educated.

    It sounds a bit silly to me now, but I’m sure it won’t be an issue longer term.

    At least it wasn’t “Take a number and get in line”.

  21. Larry T on Sep 20, 2010

    I will miss “Position and Hold”. Been hearing that one for over 35 years. But uniformity counts for something. “Line up and wait” is a little silly sounding. It reminds me of the line from Monty Python, “RUN AWAY!!…..RUN AWAY!!” in lui of the call to “RETREAT” to the troops.

    What’s next? “Roll forward fast and go vertical” replaces “cleared for takeoff”.

  22. Paul on Sep 20, 2010

    That’s pretty funny Larry. I like that. “Roll forward fast and go vertical”

  23. Clark Griswold on Sep 27, 2010

    “(callsign) Taxi into position and hold” is a complete sentence (includes subject and verb) and cannot be confused to mean anything else. Unfortunately, with slurring, abbreviating, and cutesy slang, it, and the readbacks of it , have been misinterpreted and so we have to use something else that appears to be less misinterpretable. We’ll get used to it though.

    Just wondering, will “Holding pattern” change to “Waiting pattern?”

  24. Rick on Oct 18, 2010

    Clark- Of course you are correct. The instruction will become “United 475 wait over (xxx) vortac 030 degree radial left turns 15 mile legs …… -RH

  25. John on Oct 23, 2010

    Story has it that in 1999 there were three major incidents (incursions, I assume) where foreign pilots (English not first language) mistook/misunderstood an ATC instruction. My interpretation on this is:
    When you call ready at the runway and ATC doesn’t want you to go ANYWHERE. they tell you to “Hold Short”. The term “Position and Hold” also contains the word “hold”. A pilot whose first language is not English is constantly translating in his/her head. It’s very possible that this word in common caused them to believe they were given “Position and Hold” when they were not.
    The NTSB made a recommendation in 2000 for the FAA to change to the ICAO phraseology. Ten years – not bad for government, huh?

  26. Andy on Nov 12, 2010

    “Line up and wait” is absurd, but in a perverse way it makes sense. “Hold” has an intuitive meaning of “stay put,” and that’s exactly what it means/meant in FAA ground control phraseology.

    However, we have been using the same phraseology in the air to mean “fly in circles” (more or less) since forever. Using the same word to mean radically different things in different contexts is best avoided. In a more rational and less bureaucratic world we might decide to change the in-air “hold” instruction to “circle.”

    Instead, we have decided to change “hold” to “wait” (which means more or less the same thing). I’m not sure how we got “line up” for “position,” but I’m sure the ICAO had its reasons. I also doubt that any pilot would interpret an-in air “hold” to mean “stop dead and fall out of the sky” (although I’m pretty sure some controllers have had that thought about my Skylane TC mucking around at 150-160 KTAS at FL180+).

    Whatever the case, the change is made and American pilots have to deal with it. In a few years I doubt anyone will remember the “old” FAA phraseology.

  27. Norm on Nov 14, 2010

    If you have been on taxiway Alpha on a rainy Monday morning at EWR, you have ‘lined up and waited’ for over an hour. How does this help?

  28. AATC on Nov 16, 2010

    Hasn’t the U.S. set the standard for aviation since its inception? Why is English required for aviation use the world over? The issue to me isn’t that the U.S. wasn’t in compliance with ICAO, its that ICAO wasn’t in compliance with the U.S. Standards ARE good. But I’m pretty sure “taxi into position and hold” was established before “line up and wait”. So why did ICAO come up with some non-standard phraseology? Now the U.S. is being coerced into conforming with ICAO. I’m waving the B.S. flag on this one.

  29. ATCA on Nov 26, 2010

    I am forced to agree with AATC. The first time I heard “Line up and wait”, I thought that it meant hold short in line behind other aircraft (on the taxiway) awaiting their turn to taxi into position. When I found out what they really meant, I thought, you’ve GOT TO BE KIDDING! Line up and wait is less technical and therefore less accurate, and I would argue that it is not even really descriptive. Taxi into position and hold is accurate, specific, and not very ambiguous. If they had to make an adjustment for clarity, they might have updated it to say “runway xx, taxi into position and stop”. Line up and wait? Line up with what?

  30. Matt Sieradzki on Dec 03, 2010

    I am not a pilot but to me Taxi to Position and Hold is not only more descriptive but also easier to understand by someone who may not be a native speaker of English, as many pilots are not. Line Up and Wait is in my opinion harder to understand over a headset and I believe all countries should change to what the United States has been using.

  31. JR on Dec 26, 2010

    Why do we even allow ICAO to dictate anything to us on the matter of aviation. Aviation was born and raised in the U.S. …We are and still remain the leader in Aviation, and especially Air Traffic Control……ICAO reminds me too much of the U.N………..This line up and wait thing makes me sick. I am glad I recently retired from 30 years of tower ATC so I don’t have to utter those pansy instructions……..”C’mon boys, let’s line up and wait”……How horrible…..

  32. Jerry Hope on Jan 07, 2011

    Line up means to line up with the runway heading on the runway, and wait is obvious. And while you are lining up it is a reminder to check your instruments and ensure you are on the right runway or don’t have any ,(my favorite aviation word) annomilies !

  33. Jerry Hope on Jan 07, 2011

    I think it will work ok.Years ago during my Private pilot days I was in postion and holding at Love Field Dallas. I had been in postion for a while and I kept calling the tower. I remember it well as the controller probably got tired of a novice pilot bugging him to take off. The next word was WAIT!!!! very loud and rude. I got the point and I did not confuse the command.

  34. Tom on Jul 06, 2013

    I have read all these comments and it is July 2013 –about two years later. Last week the tower I don’t normally fly into gave me that instruction …and …yea…I didn’t know what the hell he meant…. I did what i am supposed to do…I asked for clarification and the tower guy got all “huffy” that I didn’t know what the phase meant—As far as I am concerned.. “better to ask than bend props” 🙂

  35. Crash Cohen on Oct 17, 2013

    “Taxi into position and hold” makes a lot more sense than “line up and wait”.

    I saw a movie a while ago that was supposed to have taken place 15-20 years ago, and I heard ‘…. line up and wait”. WHOOPS!

  36. Mike Money on Sep 01, 2014

    I have been out of flying for years due to medical reasons and am just getting back into it, so Line p and wait was new to me. As far as the above comments. I think too many of us U.S. Pilots think the world revolves around us and should comply with the USA standard and we shouldn’t have to comply with International standards, “Line up and wait” is pretty self explanatory to me. You line up on the runway and you wait until told to do something else. Not confusing to me at all. Again we as Americans have to get out of the mindset that we make all the rules when working in an International environment.

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