Aviation In Canada

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Not Busy if not Speaking on the Radio

Which side of the radio do you think I'm writing this one about?

The answer is both. I've seen it from both sides: The pilot who thinks because the controller isn't talking on the radio he must not be busy. And the controller who thinks the pilot isn't busy since he hasn't said anything on the radio in a while. I think anyone who stops to think about these myths for even a few seconds can realize that there are many things on both sides of the radio that can prove this to be untrue.

Pilots programming an FMS, perusing weather data, going through a checklist, briefing for a departure or an arrival, setting up instruments, etc. So many tasks and such possibility for inducing a small error if interupted. For example, I once watched a pilot take an unexpected 90° left turn after errantly entering BIMTU instead of BIMKU in the RNAV. He reported that he was interupted in his processes and apologized for the error.

Controllers have hotlines to other ATC units, landlines to other facilities, other controllers in adjacent sectors to coordinate with, and, increasingly, more and more data sensitive systems to work with. Information on aircraft must be coordinated to ensure everyone is operating with the same data, clearances must be issued for relay through other units, and simple planning of traffic flow takes time that is not evident over the radio.

Fortunately, most pilots are aware of controller's having other things to do, and most controllers are aware that pilots are often likewise busy. It's only the odd one out of either bunch that gets impatient and disrespectful. But boy do they stick out of the crowd. So if either side doesn't reply right away, it may not be that they didn't hear the call. A few seconds of patience where possible can go a long way. Emergencies, Ok, fair ball. Get their attention. Otherwise, give 'em a little time.