I first noticed it when one of our newer controllers, whose voice I didn’t recognize, told us we were cleared for takeoff on Runway Tree. Tree? Huh! We thought we must have caught him mid-sandwich, and he had some lettuce stuck between his front teeth.
Through the rest of the hour, as my student and I continued to ratchet our way around the pattern, we heard him say the same thing over and over. We were landing on Runway Tree, not runway three. Hmm!
I didn’t think too much about it until later in the day, after the controllers’ shift had changed, when one of the old heads I knew well again cleared me to Runway Tree. What?! I know that most of our female controllers have Valley Girl Upspeak, which is kind of cute, because our very best controller who trained them also ends her sentences on an upswing. So, the Tree versus Three thing didn’t alarm me. It was just a new speech pattern.
Then, at almost the same time, we were being asked to “line up and wait,” not “position and hold.” After the third or fourth controller said the same thing, I couldn’t help myself and called ground control to ask what was going on. The controller told us that there was a push to use the international language, as was used in Europe, system wide in the U.S. This would “avoid confusion, because we’d all be using the same verbiage” or something like that.
Avoid confusion? They’re asking guys like me, who have been saying “position and hold” since we were wet-nosed pups, to change one of the most commonly used phrases in our existence. And they think that’s going to avoid confusion? You can’t see it, but I’m laughing as I type this. It has been over a year since this change took place, and I still can’t just sit here and say, “Line up and wait.” For some reason, it won’t stay in my mind. Someone has to actually say it first, e.g. a controller, so I can repeat after him/her. Like so many of my friends, I can’t remember the phrase, and in my confusion will automatically fall back on “position and hold.” Of course, it doesn’t take much to get me confused. This verbiage has apparently been around for some time, but is just now working its way down to smaller towers. And I don’t think I like it.
A lot of folks have asked, “Can someone please tell us why we’re the ones who have to change? Why do we have to conform to Europe?” For a short time, a lot of us were PO’d. We felt like the old dog (no comments, please) that had its dog dish moved and was in danger of starving to death. Old habits die hard.
Most of us will readily admit that we react badly to illogical change. We may be flexible in most aspects of our lives, but when it comes to words that have been tumbling out of our mouths for so many decades, and suddenly we’re asked to change so overseas visitors won’t be confused, you wind up with a bunch of unhappy campers. There are already so many changes being made that seem unnecessary that those of us in the cheap seats are having trouble keeping up.
The final straw was broken on the same day Runway Tree showed up. Two straws, actually. The first was when a local King Air was referred to as Two Fife Romeo Sierra. Fife? What the…? Really? Fife? Ground control confirmed that it was an alternate to “five.” Apparently, an option that has been around for a while, but I’ve only heard one controller use it. It has a totally foreign sound, and makes me feel as I should be wearing a kilt or something. However, since there’s not a five anywhere in my personal life, I could ignore it. That, however, changed, when another change made this all very personal, and apparently, very permanent.
I had pretty much gotten my head around changing familiar phrases and was calming down, when one of the newer controllers inadvertently hit me right up alongside the head with a change I couldn’t stomach. He answered a transmission with “Roger, eight paPA bravo!” WHAT? PaPA, accent on the second syllable? Then I heard it from other controllers. Papa had officially become paPA. I can’t adequately describe how I felt, and still feel, about that. Somehow it’ as if they’ve insulted my little airplane’s masculinity. Eight paPA bravo! It sounds as if I should be holding the control stick with my pinky finger in the air, as a dandy would hold a cup of tea in high society.
My little red bird is anything but a pinky-finger-in-the-air kind of airplane. And there’s little doubt that I’m hard-core old school myself. So, that being the case, the two of us, Papa Bravo and I, have decided that on this one small point, officialdom can go stuff it. There’s absolutely no way “paPA” is going to be uttered in that cockpit. Call that my aerial line in the sand. Difference is, this is one line in the sand that I can control, so it’ll stand. PaPA bravo? Give me a break!