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"Souls On Board"

Jim Holtsclaw
Date: 10/21/2016 7:33:34 AM


I have a request from Danny Glover, FAA Headquarters for the following information. Can anyone give further information? If so please contact me 248 305 5967.

Hi Mr. Holtsclaw,

I am a writer with the FAA, and I'm researching a story about the use of the phrase "souls on board" in aviation. I have spoken to retired controllers who recall being trained to ask pilots for the number of souls on board in an emergency situation, but I haven't been able to track down any official evidence about how/when/why this terminology came into existence in air traffic control.

The current air traffic controllers' handbook, for instance, uses the phrase "number on board," and the FAA domestic flight plan form says "number aboard." (Just this month, the agency transitioned to the ICAO form for domestic flights, and it says "people on board.") Historically, I've found evidence dating back to 1980 that shows "number" was used instead of "people both in the controllers' handbook and on the standard flight plan form.

I was wondering if anyone in the Society of Airway Pioneers might have any insight into the use of "souls on board." Does the society or any of the members have old handbooks or other documentation that use the phrase? Was it ever part of official training, either formally or informally?

I'd appreciate any insights you might have. Thanks for your time.

Danny Glover
Federal Aviation Administration

Society of Airway Pioneers
James Holtsclaw, Executive Director
Ron Cowles, Webmaster