Research Proposal: Communication Between Commercial Pilots and Air Traffic Controllers During Emergency Situations

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¶ … Communication Between Commercial Pilots and Air

Traffic Controllers During Emergency Situations

Flight safety is a broad area encompassing numerous variables and interrelationships. Successful negotiation of emergency situations demands a full- spectrum application of technical competence, experience, as well as the all-important efficiency of communications with air traffic control. Myriad factors can either adversely affect the ability of pilots to successfully negotiate emergencies; in that regard, some of the most crucial include: (1) a mutual commitment to a team approach on the part of both pilots and air traffic controllers, (2) preparedness for unanticipated circumstances, (3) the ability to process information in real time and deduce the optimal responses required by specific events, (4) bi-directional clarity of communications, (5) preplanning of emergency procedures, (6) appropriate responses to dynamic changes in flight plans and landing approaches, (7) the availability and reliability of emergency avoidance equipment, (8) the ability to avoid tunnel vision in crises including thinking "out of the box," and (9) procedural rules and federal regulation that provide appropriate and unambiguous protocols outlining the hierarchy of respective responsibilities between flight crews and air traffic control as well as between and among various segments of air traffic control.

Situational Awareness and Mutual Cooperation Between Air Traffic Control and Pilots:

In a series of two articles on the subject of cooperation and coordination in communications between pilots and air traffic control, Shelton (2007) details the factors commonly responsible for communication breakdown as well as the respective annoyances and frustrations that pilots and controllers often experience as a result of each other's habits and operational practices. Likewise, Miller (2008) emphasizes the importance of understanding appropriate and inappropriate degrees of reliance and expectations, primarily of pilots with respect to controllers and their relative ability (and responsibility) to provide specific types of safety-related information such as severe weather.

Berge (2008) details the various contributions that pilots can make to assist controllers maintain flight safety, even while performing at maximum capacity. In particular, Berge relates the importance of proactive situational analyses of pilots and the need to think ahead of air traffic control rather than merely reacting passively to instructions. Berge infuses humor into the analysis; on pilots, Berge writes,

At the risk of forfeiting my Phil Boyer lapel pin, let me say that I'm a big fan of user fees (wait for it) -- based on radio airtime. Talk more, pay more. Under my plan, pilots would receive a yearly radio allowance good on any ATC frequency. The first so many minutes would be free, with every second thereafter billable at an exponentially increasing rate. The FAA would make a bundle from pilots who think aloud on the air."

Similarly, on "chatty" air traffic controllers Berge writes, "Similar disincentives would exist for chatty controllers, with the truly egregious ATC talkaholics promoted into management, where mindless blather is gold." Notwithstanding the humorous tone, Berge dispenses valuable insight, such as the value to overworked controllers represented by proactive pilots who monitor sector transmissions with an open ear to assisting controllers and fellow pilots, such as by confirming relative position to other aircraft in response to calls to other aircraft pertaining to their own position.

Berge also distinguishes the appropriate degree of input for pilots in communications during approach, suggesting when to assist controllers with time saving requests based on pilot knowledge of specific flight corridors and conditions and when to acknowledge instructions without input:

Before you check onto an approach frequency, determine the controller's workload. If the controller is busy, chances are you'll get vectors for a sequence. Acknowledge and fly it. but, if traffic is light, then inject your own plan into the controller's head... If it works, the controller will approve it, maybe slap on an altitude crossing restriction and even clear you for the approach, all in one breath. Job done.... [T]he controller's IAF choice might demand a procedure turn. If there's another IAF that eliminates the PT, then request the alternative. It never hurts to ask.... Let the controller know that you have the traffic flick and can deliver without sounding pushy. If declined, consider negotiations closed. You get one shot at this bargaining table; after that you're a pest."

Shelton (2007) echoes the importance of proactive pilot awareness and input:

Controllers get frustrated when they have to make multiple calls to an airplane before they receive a response. They expect pilots to listen for their own callsigns as well as be aware of other traffic. it's handy when a pilot sees a brewing issue because he or she was paying attention to other aircraft and their intentions. Sometimes offering a helpful solution or just bringing up the issue helps everybody's day go smoother."

Miller (2008) also details the respective points-of-view of controllers and pilots and stresses the importance of pilot's understanding the limits of information available to controllers in the realm of adverse weather:

At the TRACON (Approach) level, the Airport Surveillance Radar system (ASR- 9 and ASR-11) provides the controller with real-time images of developing precipitation in scales of light, moderate, heavy, and extreme. In other words, the controller can see rain. He cannot see clouds or the turbulence and convection inside these clouds. With few exceptions, it is convection, not rain, that hurts us in airplanes."

In particular, Miller addresses the importance of pilot pre-flight preparation and monitoring of weather conditions such as thunderstorms capable of interfering with operational flight control, precisely because the data available to controllers is not necessarily capable of predicting relevant turbulence:

While one might reasonably argue that heavy or extreme precipitation signals the presence of active thunderstorms, this doesn't hold true in all cases. Similarly, the absence of precipitation, extreme or otherwise, is no guarantee that thunderstorms are not present. Air route traffic control center (ARTCC) controllers have even less-precise thunderstorm detection capability." Miller (2008) also relates the exasperation of air traffic controller caused by conflicting (or at least profoundly ambiguous) regulations distinguishing respective responsibilities for adverse weather system awareness:

Section 2-1-1 of the 7110.65 makes it clear that the controller's primary job to separate traffic. A bit further into 7110.65 it says: The ability to provide additional services is limited by many factors, such as the volume of traffic, frequency congestion, quality of radar, controller workload, higher priority duties, and the pure physical inability to scan and detect those situations that fall in this category... " and later, "... controllers shall provide additional service procedures to the extent permitted by higher priority duties and other circumstances...Section 2-6-4 nails it down by requiring controllers to provide pilots with information that includes 'weather significant to the safety of aircraft [which] includes conditions, such as tornadoes, lines of thunderstorms, embedded thunderstorms, large hail, wind shear, microbursts, moderate-to-extreme turbulence (including clear air turbulence), and light-to-severe icing.' So, let's see. Controllers are told exactly what job One is, but they are also instructed that jobs Two, Three, and Four are not optional - but are only to be done when workload permits...In other words, the rule book tells the controller that aircraft separation comes first and, if workload permits, they should keep pilots informed of hazardous weather ahead. But since safety is involved with hazardous weather, do the latter regardless of workload. This is sort of like damned if you do and damned if you don't, right?"

Like Berge (2008), Shelton (2007) provides specific examples of communications habits conducive to avoiding critical incidents and relays informal protocols requested by surveyed air traffic controllers with regard to communications to enable pilots to avoid causing or contributing to miscommunications:

Open your ears before keying the microphone. 'Listen not only for a time when nobody is talking, but know when ATC has asked a question of another pilot and is waiting for a response,' said one controller. Acknowledge your clearance with a complete readback. That means more than just the numbers. ATC wants you to use proper phraseology. One controller stated, 'if they read the full instructions back and I miss [the mistake], then I buy the error, not the pilot.' For the approach clearance, 'Read back heading, altitude, and cleared for the approach.' 'OKs, Rogers, and mic clicks are poor substitutes for full readbacks,' says another."

The other informal protocols relayed by Shelton (2007) include: Using callsigns or flight number on all transmissions; acknowledging all frequency changes with the new frequency and callsign (because "Controllers usually don't have time to call the next sector to make sure you got to that frequency"); not listening to the ATIS during frequency changes (because "The next controller may need you to check in immediately.

Make the change, and then ask to go off frequency to get the ATIS"); eliminating colloquial communications; speaking slowly and clearly, and confirming proper operation of radios and headsets.

In the current (April 2009) issue of Plane & Pilot, Valerie Salven emphasizes the importance of thinking "out of the box" in emergency situations and details the types of circumstances in which pilots might conceivably resort to cell phones to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Communication Between Commercial Pilots and Air Traffic Controllers During Emergency Situations.  (2009, March 17).  Retrieved November 20, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/communication-commercial-pilots-air/50085

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"Communication Between Commercial Pilots and Air Traffic Controllers During Emergency Situations."  Essaytown.com.  March 17, 2009.  Accessed November 20, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/communication-commercial-pilots-air/50085.