Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 23, 2011

IFR Communications: Serious Business

What you say and what you hear on the radio are more than mere words

7 The dreaded vocalized pause, “Uhhhhh,” is one of the banes of radio communications. Think about what you plan to say before you say it, rather than starting your transmission with, “Uhh, Albuquerque Center, ummm, Malibu 3274 Bravo would like to, uh, get some weather. Can you, uhhh, do that or should I use another frequency?” Use the mental five Ws (who, what, when, where, why) to remind you how to compose your message. “Albuquerque, 74 Bravo needs to leave the frequency for five minutes to get some weather. We’ll call when back on.”

8 Remember that there’s a reason the famous six Ts of an instrument approach (aviation does love its multiple single-letter cues)—time, turn, tach, track, tune, talk—places communicating with the controlling agency at the absolute bottom of the list. Controllers are good people, but they serve a strictly advisory function. A controller can’t help you fly your airplane. You’re responsible for the aircraft and its passengers. It’s important to remember that the maximum hazard a controller can face is falling off their chair.

9 If you do have a disagreement with a controller, the radio is NOT the place to resolve it. You’ll only hold up communication and make everyone’s life more miserable by hassling a controller on the radio. Make a mental note of the frequency and the time of the disagreement, then drop a note to the appropriate control agency when you’re back on the ground. The Feds are well aware of the importance of proper radio protocol, and you can rest assured they’ll bring it to the controller’s attention.

10 Fortunately, IFR operation demands that at least everyone speak the same language, or so it says here. ICAO regulations establish the international language of the sky as English, but it seems some overseas controllers ignore that regulation on occasion. Some countries are worse than others, but in general, almost everyone speaks English.

11 Another rule the pros subscribe to is always listen before you talk. Sometimes, you can answer your own question if you listen for a few minutes. Whether you’re communicating with clearance delivery, ground, tower, center, departure or approach, make sure you have a clear space before transmitting your message. Always allow the previous communication to complete before you press the PTT or mic button. That’s not always easy, but it’s simple courtesy.

12 Most of us who have been flying IFR for a number of years appreciate that controllers have bad days just as pilots do. When that happens, try to be a little tolerant, and perhaps more than a little encouraging. If you feel you receive poor service, don’t argue about it, but good service may deserve a compliment.

I was flying a new Seneca north from Florida to Maine a few years ago in preparation for a crossing to France, and the New York controller was definitely not in a good mood. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, just barking at everyone, and some pilots were barking right back.

At one point, the harried controller issued me a vector and a new frequency, and I replied, “Seneca 26A, heading 020, 120.75, maintain 11,000. You’re doing a great job, New York. Have a nice day.”

The controller didn’t lose a beat. He came back with an immediate, “26A, unable.”


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