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:

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