Saturday, May 17, 2008

Fitting in Phraseology



My thoughts keep turning to phraseology -- even in retirement. The subject keeps coming up in various places. The FAA Follies had a post about it yesterday, I’ve had a couple of readers mention it and I’ve been trying to develop a new lecture on the subject. The problem I keep coming back to again and again is that there aren’t any realistic ways of teaching the subject to pilots and letting them practice. I should rephrase that. The methods for teaching and practicing phraseology lack realism.

Controllers get to master phraseology by doing. We talk all day -- everyday. Virtually everything controllers do requires communication on a telephone or radio and 90% of that has formal phraseology attached to it. Pilots, on the other hand, only talk on the radio at random intervals. Except in rare cases, it is sporadic. Airline pilots use phraseology on a more consistent basis than most and even that amount is miniscule in comparison to controllers. A general aviation pilot might not talk on the radio for weeks at a time. Proficiency will always be a problem for pilots but most of the problems start at the very beginning -- learning proper phraseology to start with.

I’ve already touched three major problem areas (and I’m just getting started.)

1) Learning proper phraseology

2) Practicing phraseology in a realistic environment

3) Remaining proficient in using proper phraseology

I spent a little time reading one of my old articles on AVweb this morning. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well most of my articles have stood up over time. Trust me, it’s mostly beginner’s luck. Anyway, while I’m thinking out loud (which is what I’m doing in case you haven’t noticed), I thought it would be as good a place as any to review what has already been done.

Say Again? #20: Communications — The Top Ten

You’re welcome to read the whole thing of course but a summary of the list is...

10) Format -- saying the proper words in the proper sequence
9) Questions -- There are no question marks (?) in phraseology
8) Direct vs. "Cleared to" -- “cleared to” does not mean “cleared direct”
7) Ride Reports -- a primary cause of frequency congestion
6) Key Words -- omission of key words
5) Mumbling -- just what it says
4) Call Signs -- improper use of, or omission of
3) Requests -- another primary cause of frequency congestion
2) Clipping -- “clipping” off the first word of a transmission
1) Frequency Congestion -- the number one bottleneck of ATC

As you can see from the list, once you start talking about phraseology it’s hard not to delve into other areas of communication. Which brings me to what I believe is the most critical part of phraseology -- learning correct phraseology from the very start. We need to instill good habits in students before they know enough about aviation to start asking “Why ?”.

As it stands now, people learn to fly and then proper phraseology is tacked on as an afterthought (if at all.) I’m sitting here trying to remember being taught proper phraseology -- and I can’t. (Current FAA academy students are welcome to refresh my memory.) I know it was taught at the academy but it was such an integral part of ATC that you take it for granted. One thing I’m certain of though, improper phraseology was corrected on the spot -- before you developed any bad habits.

Oh well, that’s enough for today. It’ a beautiful day outside and I have flower beds to rearrange. I’ll think while I dig, weed and plant. We’ll spend more time on the subject soon.

Don Brown
May 17, 2008

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