Saturday, April 07, 2012

Slow Learners

How many times are aviators going to subject themselves to the angst and suffering that comes from their failure to adhere to standard phraseology as a matter of habit? How many times must people like me write about it? For how many years?

Standard phraseology really isn’t that hard. At least in the sense that it isn’t hard for people with the intelligence to fly an airplane or control a section of airspace. If the truth be known, it’s mostly just considered “uncool”. Let me call a spade a spade. If you are one of these people, you are being stupid. If your ego is so big that sounding cool is more important than being correct, you are being stupid.

Now, if you’re a pilot or a controller, we’ve already determined that you’re at least moderately intelligent. So stop being stupid.

I want you to listen to this story. But first, pay attention to what I am saying. First, turn on the TV or some music to distract yourself. Or start a conversation with your spouse. Then I want you to click on the video link below. Then turn your computer around and listen to the story. No visuals. Just listen. I want you to hear the radio transmissions.

Air controller during emergency landing: 'I know that's BS'

Got the Flick now? How many of you pilot types have ever practiced saying the words MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY out loud? Don’t you practice emergency procedures? Isn’t this part of the emergency procedures you are required to practice -- and demonstrate -- as a pilot?

If this pilot had said MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY -- even at his 100 mph speech rate -- do you think we’d be dealing with another embarrassing story for our professions?

By the way, I know the answer to the questions I asked. I’ve watched airline pilots take their check rides. I’ve seen the multi-million dollar simulators. I listened to the lectures on how expensive it is to send pilots and instructors into these training scenarios -- thousands of dollars. I’d tell you how little attention is paid to phraseology but most of you know it as well -- if not better -- than I do.

Pay attention. Practice it. Say it with me. SLOWLY if you’re worried about panicking a controller. M-A-Y-D-A-Y...M-A-Y-D-A-Y...M-A-Y-D-A-Y. Sound like you’re bored because some stupid government bureaucrat is making you say it and you’re way too cool for this. The next time you walk in front of a mirror say it again -- M-A-Y-D-A-Y...M-A-Y-D-A-Y...M-A-Y-D-A-Y. Say it like Barney Fife. Say it like John Wayne. Say it in any voice you want. Just say it. And every time you’re in a simulator practicing emergency procedures -- say it. EVERY SINGLE TIME.

That way, when you need it -- we you’re having an actual emergency -- it will be there for you. And we won’t have to have this conversation. We’ll be talking about how you saved the day by getting the airplane on the ground without any injuries to your passengers instead of phraseology.

'I know that's BS'

”Only one of the 21 people on board the plane was taken to the hospital after the incident.”

”A passenger on flight 5912, Linda Irwin, says she saw smoke in the cabin during the landing, and said the pilot and co-pilot landed the plane extremely well, considering snowy conditions and smoke in the cockpit.

She also says the flight attendant remained calm during the evacuation from the front of the plane.”

By the way. Use your callsign too. Not half of it. All of it.

Don Brown
April 7, 2012


johnk said...

You Sir are 100% correct.

RC said...

I listened to the recording and 5912 comes through pretty clearly considering that the pilot was probably wearing a pressure O2 mask. (It's not that easy to talk clearly into one of those things). Furthermore a crew in that situation has lot more to do than to just talk to ATC. Controllers need to realize this.

elpelso said...

Oh Don, I feel like this sometimes, at our Air Traffic Control Facility. Both the young turks who can't possibly have something go south on them, because they're invincible, and the older hands who are too cool for their own good use phraseology that makes me wince... Things like saying 'my bad' to a crew when the pilots point out the error of the atco's ways, or transferring aircraft to the next sector/center simply by saying 'contact on' without ever using the next station's radio call sign. I guess it is cooler that way, never mind that it goes against all accumulated wisdom and ICAO standards and recommended practices... Sadly, the pilots up there are increasingly slacking off on their standard phraseology also. I almost find myself profusely congratulating the one crew per day who manages to make a perfect initial call. I am really happy when they use the word flight level or just simply level before stating the digits of their cleared altitude (as in descend to flight level two six zero, and not descend t(w)o six zero). To top it all off, lately, the use of radio call sign has become all too often entirely superfluous. Amongst the 20 aircraft that are routinely occupying the frequency, I am to remember the particular accent of the crew and hope that it was the correct one that answered my instruction... Yes, I know we have a lot of whizz-bang gizmos down in our atc-center, and we can read a lot of what your aircraft most helpfully tells us via Mode S, but that is not an excuse for maintaining good phraseology practice. And, Don, like you, I have had the pleasure of participating in simulator training sessions for airline crew. Correct phraseology and informing ATC as a matter of course were some serious afterthoughts, and rarely corrected. So, errors breed, like a virus. The next guy/gal that comes along thinks that the inappropriate phraseology sounds real cool and slick, and so the world turns... And sometimes the holes in the cheese line up for some unfortunate souls...

Don Brown said...


"(It's not that easy to talk clearly into one of those things)"

Another reason to use standard phraseology -- *all the time*.

As I used to tell controllers, "It's never a problem -- until it's a problem." I've seen dozens of these things. And right when it counts -- when the chips are down and we need everything to work -- sloppy phraseology *habits* bite us in the butt.

Don Brown