Radio Communication Integrity


Thought I’d check in with you and catch up. I’ve been out of contact for a while. A long run of flying and then a short run of the flu has put me on the sidelines. This timeout has given me time to think . . . maybe more than I should.

How Do You Define Integrity?

There are a lot of definitions of integrity. Which one of these do you use?

A. Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.

B. Integrity is saying what you will do and then doing what you say.

C. Integrity is following the agreed upon standards, always.

I pattern my behavior in a way that most closely matches definition B. I have one modification to B. See if this rings true for you.

If I can’t do exactly what I said I would do, I’m going to tell you about it right away. Speaking up, when you can’t follow through according to an agreement, is part and parcel of integrity.

The Contract Between You and ATC

Communicating on the aircraft radio requires a high degree of integrity. Let me make a stronger statement. Communicating on the aircraft radio requires absolute integrity.

When you tell ATC you are going to do something, you must do it exactly as you said it. For example, if you say, “Cessna 9130D is descending to 3,000,” you must descend and then level off at 3,000 feet. Leveling off at 2,600 or at 3,700 is unacceptable. From ATC’s point of view, if you say, “3000,” ATC expects you to level off at 3,000. Simple enough.

Now think about my modification to definition B. Let’s continue with the statement, “Cessna 9130D is descending to 3,000.” As you descend, you notice a large flock of birds below. Those birds are going to get in your face if you continue down to 3,000.

Should you continue your descent into the flock? Of course not. What do you do instead?

As you initiate a level-off well above the flock, you tell ATC what you are doing.

“Cessna 9130D is temporarily leveling off at 3,400 for a flock of birds passing underneath.”

ATC answers, “Cessna 9130D, roger. Let me know when you can continue your descent and when able, let me know the estimated altitude and heading of that flock.”

Act and Advise

In flying, and in life, you are occasionally going to run into circumstances that prevent you from doing exactly what you said you were going to do. Integrity does not mean you are absolutely locked into doing what you said. Communication is the key that opens that lock.

The very first statement of Part 91.123, allows you to obtain an amended clearance from ATC should circumstances require an amendment. The reg goes on to say, in an emergency or to avoid a collision, you may act first in the interest of safety and then advise ATC of your intentions as soon as possible.

The same holds true in any relationship between people. If you can’t do what you said you were going to do, talk it over and come to a new agreement. Makes sense?

P.S. Once I’m fully recovered, we’ll talk about NextGen air traffic control and other ATC communication subjects.

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