Some tips from the Plane Talking 2023 seminars.
When pilots – of all stripes – are asked by Vector what the biggest issue is in flying around unattended aerodromes, the answer is almost always ‘radio calls’.
Standard radiotelephony is a fundamental skill in flying. How critical it is to be clear, concise, consistent, and correct is drummed into us all during training, and it’s one of the basic skills tested during a PPL flight test.
And yet, as some of us build hours and start to feel confident (over-confident?) in our flying, the way we make a call wanders well away from what is helpful to other pilots, and safe for everyone.
That’s why the Work Together, Stay Apart seminar Plane Talking 2023 has been touring the country, reminding us all of why the need to be clear, concise, consistent and correct, is so critical to everyone’s safety.
Here’s a flavour of what the three seminar presenters say.
CAA Aviation Safety Advisor Carlton Campbell says that it’s important for us all to realise that we’re part of a ‘system’ when we make a call.
“Listen, really listen to what other pilots are saying about where they are and what their intentions are, and only then decide whether it’s necessary to make a call as well, and if so, what information would be helpful,” he says.
Reports from the Transport Accident Investigation Commission on the mid-air collisions at Paraparaumu in 2008, Feilding in 2010, and Masterton in 2019 noted that while appropriate radio calls were made by all the parties, it was apparent none of them acted on the advice given in those calls.
A near collision – 300ft vertically and 1000m horizontally – occurred at a ‘non-towered’ Queensland airport in 2021, between two medium-sized passenger aircraft.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau found the near miss was due, in part, to the crew of one aircraft failing to effectively monitor the radio, having therefore an incorrect mental model of the other aircraft’s position, and not perceiving it as a threat.1
“It’s important to actively listen to what you’re being told. Don’t treat radio transmissions like elevator music,” says CAA Standards Chief Advisor, Marc Brogan.
“And don’t continue to talk to passengers/students while a radio call is being transmitted.”
Aaron Pearce, of the Work Together, Stay Apart campaign, says the use of local and informal reporting points confuses itinerant pilots, and international students.
“The first thing they do, when they hear ‘overhead Dave’s garage’, is start scrolling through their device trying to find where the heck you are, when you’re ‘overhead Dave’s garage’. That means a long time head down.”
“Clearly, this kind of position report is fairly mystifying to anyone but the most local pilot,” says Marc.
“Use the correct VRP, or if unsure of that, or there isn’t an appropriate one, give your position relative to the closest airfield or town.”
Carlton Campbell recounts a situation where a gaggle of aircraft on a fly-in through Mackenzie Country, all separately reported they were “overhead the pylon”.
“Given that this area is cluttered with hundreds, possibly thousands, of pylons, this position report is pretty hopeless,” he says.
Radio ‘clutter’ is another issue for many pilots flying at unattended aerodromes.
“It’s part of actively listening,” says Aaron, “to think about whether you really do need to push ‘transmit’. Some pilots do it automatically and unthinkingly, only adding to the confusion on the frequency.
“Transmit only when necessary.”
Some more tips from the presenters
- If you cannot remember the correct phraseology in the moment, revert to plain language. The important thing is that you make clear where you are, at what height, and what you’re planning to do.
- Before departure, tune in the radio frequency of each area/service you’re going to use, in a logical order. Then it’s a quick change from one to the next.
- Pause when you’ve made that frequency change, to listen for any activity on that frequency, so you don’t interrupt an already-occurring exchange.
- When changing frequency, squelch your radio to check intercom and volume settings.
1 Safety Watch, “Reducing the collision risk around non-towered airports”, ATSB.
Image credit: iStock.com/jacoblund