Monday, October 31, 2011

Radio Communications Are Important So Be Brief And Precise

Pilot radio communication techniques aren’t usually discussed or commented upon, but here goes a bit of chatter on this topic. So fasten your seatbelts and listen up on your David Clarks for my thoughts about protocols and what not to calls.

This discussion was prompted by my conversation with a US Air captain who graciously shared a few moments and thoughts with me recently at the Charlotte airport. I began the conversation with a brief introduction, and then asked him what bothered him most about private type pilots and their antics. He thought for a moment or two and said: communications. Meaning how the non-professional pilots communicated with ATC. The exact phraseology is key here. Choice of words and speed of talking and the length of time to respond are all important. The reasons are: in the busier areas the pace of communication is sometimes non-stop. Specific words or phrases have definite meanings. For example: after receiving an instruction from ATC the simple reply: roger* means that you have understood the command and are able and will comply. If one cannot comply with the command the reply should be: unable turn to 360 for what ever reason (traffic for example). Don’t say: can’t do it because….Keep it cryptic. Time is of the essence.

When learning about flying early in my flying career I listened by the hour to ATC-pilot chatter on a small hand held aircraft radio while on the roof of my apartment building in Boston. Frequently the pace of talk was non-stop. If you missed your call and the instructions, it was a long time before one could break in and say: United 375 say again. A delay like that could cause some havoc or disruption to the flow of traffic in the terminal high density areas. The point being, that if you are going to fly into busy terminal places be prepared mentally for what is coming. Listen to what the controllers are saying to flights ahead of you and be ready for your call. Also take advantage of the time there and listen to what is said by the responding pilots. Brevity and specificity are key. No one is saying: ahhh Bonanza 32V would like a VOR approach to runway 32. Rather say: Bonanza 32V requests VOR 32 approach. Short and accurate, no hyperbole.

Another example of keeping it simple, accurate and brief is at start up when requesting initial taxi or IFR clearance. Rather than: Piper 472Whiskey with Uniform is looking for clearance to Peoria. Try this: Piper 372 Whiskey with Uniform for clearance Peoria. Just a bit shorter with no excess verbiage. Maybe it sounds trivial but if it is busy you may not get a second chance to call in for a long while. Another example of an initial call-up to clearance delivery: Baron123FG IFR Boston for clearance. As I remember you don’t have to read back everything verbatim. You can just say: roger cleared as filed Peoria.

This attention to detail may seem petty, but doing things professionally is both satisfying and efficient. The next time up there listen to how the pro’s do it.

* According to the FAA, either the word Roger or Wilco may be used to acknowledge the order.

Also: See an earlier blog "Learn to communicate like the pros-June 3 2009

For a complete and interesting discussion on radio techniques by the FAA go to:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Taxiing May Be Taxing And More

Recently, one of the daily accident reports listed on the FAA site dealt with quite a few accidents involving taxiing. Yes, the phase of a flight that should be the easiest and least likely to cause a wreck. But not this particular week. Here are some of the types of mishaps: ..went off the side of the runway (into the weeds or worse), ..hit runway lights,
…wing or tail struck another aircraft,..ground looped (common in tailwheel types), ..completely flipped over (hard to imagine). Here I must interject my own mishap. While still a young pilot (a bit wet between the ears), as I was taxiing a Cessna 172, my right wing tip struck a parked plane’s left wing tip, causing minor damage. Easy to do if you are not paying attention or wandering off the yellow line, if one is present.

Reading the accident reports, minor collisions between taxiing airliners are more often between airliners and service vehicles and are quite common. Airliners are a different beast from the smaller prop types I write about. Accidents happen merely due to the force of the blast from the engines, usually as they taxi from the gate areas. Things such as vehicles blown over, people injured and other types of property damage.

Before changing course, how about this? A pilot last week took off in his single engine plane with the tow bar still attached to the nose wheel. It was a noisy, sparky landing. Anyone believe in doing a preflight check? Not a taxiing accident strictly, but close.

I will close by relating a synopsis of a horrific accident due apparently at least in part, to the pilot’s inability or unwillingness to abort a flight after successive take-off attempts. The plane was a twin Beechcraft. The pilot was older with a spotty flight history. The flight began by landing at the wrong airport and asking whether he was at airport A (real names are not being used) The airport A was in fact on a nearby island, something hard to miss. I’ve been there. Any way he proceeded there only to have to return to airport B for fuel, as airport A had none. Remember the 6 P’s-Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Then back to A to pick up his passengers. Now the awful part, almost unbelievable. The pilot made three attempts at take-off. On the first two he aborted about midfield. According to witnesses after each of the aborted take-offs no engine run-up or apparently other type of diagnostic was done to explain an apparent loss of power. On the third attempt, again according to a witness the left engine appeared to be running slower. Nevertheless, the pilot determined to take-off kept on going, the engine sputtering and spewing black smoke. The plane barely got airborne, impacting the center structures of a nearby interstate with disastrous results. The plane ended up inverted and in flames. One of the four on board survived, the rest including the pilot perished.

The lesson here is that if it isn’t right the first time, rather than just try again, find out what the problem is and fix it if you can. If you can’t find out what’s wrong, cancel the flight and make other arrangements. I’ve been there and done just that. I rented a car and lived to fly another day. Be wise and safe.