Aviation Communication at the Speed of Stink

Play the above recording one time only, and then answer this question:

Did you get all that?

Speed is Life

Pilots like to say “Speed is life.” This adage does not apply to talking on the aircraft radio. Talking like an auctioneer on the radio can lead to two problems:

1. The need to repeat the radio call because the listener could not digest everything that was said.
2. Misunderstanding, which can lead to, at least, a violation of air traffic rules, and, at worst, a threat to life and limb.

If you cannot digest a rapid radio call, your smart–and required–response is “Say again.” If you correctly read back the clearance the second time around, you’re good to go, but it took 4 radio transmissions, (and possibly more,) to accomplish what should have happened in 2 transmissions.

Your Fault, My Fault

I don’t mean to pick on air traffic controllers. Many pilots are just as guilty of rapid talk on the radio. Why are both parties prone to this habit?

Four Reasons

  1. Radio time is valuable. Generally, crowded airspace equals a high volume of radio traffic. The need to get on the radio, say something, and then get off as quickly as possible goes up as more and more pilots join the radio frequency.
  2. Rapid fire speech may be perceived as evidence of skill. Okay, no one is going to admit this out loud, but talking fast on the radio sounds cool. If you’ve been flying or controlling for decades, you probably can set your lips on fire as you talk on the radios, and, let’s face it, it is impressive when it works.
  3. Talking fast may be a bad habit. Where I live, quite a few drivers will race past me on the highway, at 5:30 a.m. on a Sunday. Come on! You won’t convince me all those people are rushing to an emergency situation at o’dark-thirty on a weekend. Sometimes, fast talking, like fast driving, is simply a bad habit.
  4. If you talk fast, I’ll talk fast. The faster you talk, the faster I’ll talk. Often, there is a real psychology in play.
  5. Airplanes in flight wait for no one, especially in a busy traffic pattern. If we could all just stop time and make our aircraft wait for the next clearance, there wouldn’t be such urgency to our communication. Picture the performer who keeps ten plates spinning on ten poles all at the same time. He dances back and forth at high speed to keep all those plates spinning. When communicating, air traffic controllers, and to a lesser degree, pilots face the same dilemma.

What is the solution? I’ll have that next time.

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