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Investigation the communication pitfalls be traffic controllers tween commercial piolets and air Essay Example

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Investigation of the Communication Pitfalls between Commercial Pilots and Air Traffic Controllers


Communications between air traffic controllers (ATCs) and pilots remain a crucial aspect of air traffic control operations, (Van Es 3). Problems with such communication most often results in various communication pitfalls and hazardous aviation incidents. An indispensable step in reducing the incidences of communication pitfalls is to understand how and why they happen, (Van Es 3). This necessitates an investigation of the causes of communication breakdown between ATCs and commercial pilots. Some of the communication pitfalls that occur as a result of communication breakdowns include altitude, lateral and operational deviations, (Airbus 4). Communications pitfalls emanate from inefficient communication management between the flight crew on the flight deck as well as with ATC. The sheer volume of communications between pilots and ATCs presents an inevitable potential for human error whose consequences may be fatal or simply annoying, (Cardosi 1). Miscommunication between the pilots and ATCs increases the opportunity for frequency congestions as well as enhanced ATC workload that narrows the margin of safety of crew, passengers and people on the ground, (Cardosi 1).

Operational, altitude and lateral aircraft deviations as a result of communication breakdown between the pilot and the ATCs have the potential to result into airborne and ground conflicts, less than desired lateral and vertical aircraft separation, near mid-air collisions and runway incursions, (Van Es 8). These pitfalls occur as a result of both human and non-human factors. Human factors include negative attitudes, pilot expectation, controller high speech rate, distractions, language barriers, sloppy phraseology, non-standard phraseology and inaccurate controller instructions, (Van Es 9). Others include long instruction messages, issuance of multiple instructions as one message as well as issuance of a string of instructions to different pilots, (Van Es 9). Non-human factors include adverse weather conditions and technical aircraft malfunctions such as frequency congestions, radio frequency interference, identical aircraft call signs, untimely message transmission and garbled messages, (Van Es 9). Other non-human factors include stuck microphones, sleeping VHF, blocked transmissions and unanticipated frequency changes, (Van Es 9).

Most of the reported communication related aircraft incidents as a result of human error are language based. However, in some incidents they are aggravated by non-language human factors such as fatigue, stubbornness and frivolousness, (Cushing 2). Ambiguous phraseology is one of the language-related communication pitfalls that explain aircraft incidents. For instance, use of non-standard phrases or ambiguous phrases, particularly by bilingual and multilingual ATC personnel and pilots is common. Such ambiguous phrases arise as a result of code switching among ATC personnel and pilots who are unfamiliar with foreign languages. Code switching occurs as a result of the inadvertent shift from the required technical aviation jargon to more ordinary vernacular grammatical constructions of English words, (Cushing 2). Even where pilots and ATC personnel share a particular native language, incidences of varying dialects and or variants are not uncommon, (Cushing 2). In addition to ambiguous phraseology usage, another language related communication pitfall cause is as a result of homophony, (Cushing 2). Homophony refers to a situation where a person uses a word that sound similar to another word such as to and two.

Most human errors result in read-back and hear-back errors that are responsible for undesired altitude, lateral and operational deviations, (Airbus 4). Hear-back and read-back errors occur both on the pilot and controller ends. Both hear-back and read-back errors occur as a result of the usage of ambiguous phraseology, non-standard phraseology, inaccurate instructions, incomplete instructions, distractions, fatigue, controller excessive workload. For instance, pilots may acknowledge controller communication transmissions with incomplete read-backs or with a mere acknowledgement such as “roger” without complete read-back as is required. On the other hand, ATCs may fail to detect pilot read-back errors or relay multiple instructions in a single transmission, both of which may increase the communication pitfalls. Language barriers between aircraft crew and ATC have become an issue in the aviation industry as budget airlines increasingly move towards recruiting staff for their rapidly growing fleets, (Citation). Language barriers are particularly explaining the majority of ATC and pilot communication pitfalls in developing and under-developed countries who heavily rely on foreign pilots as a result of a scarcity in domestic talent, (Citation). Moreover, incomprehensible foreign language and localized English language accents are also causing communication pitfalls.

Non-human factors account for some of the communication pitfalls between the ATCs and pilots. For instance, Van Es notes that non-human factors explain some of the causes of read-back and hear-back errors between the ATCs and pilots, (13). For instance, similar aircraft call sign, blocked message transmission, radio frequency interference, frequency congestion and stuck microphone result in loss of communication and incorrect read-back and hear-back of transmitted messages. Particularly, sleeping VHF, blocked transmissions and similar aircraft call signs result in incidents of runway transgressions, acceptance of clearance by wrong aircraft, loss of aircraft separation, heading and track deviations, (Van Es 28).

The purpose of this study

This study aims to explore the various communication pitfalls between commercial pilots and air traffic controllers. Overall, the aim will be to investigate whether a majority of communication pitfalls between the air traffic control and commercial pilots are caused by human factors or non-human factors.


A. Research Type:

This study adopts a quantitative research methodology to investigate the communication pitfalls between ATCs and commercial aircraft pilots. Such a research methodology is ideal for meeting the objectives of the study that are exploratory in nature. The focus of this research will be to provide various insights into the various communication pitfalls that arise as a result of the failed or inefficient communication between the ATCs and the commercial pilots.

B. Data Collection:

The study will utilize convenience sampling methodology for data collection. Such a method is ideal due to its convenience in addressing the specificity of the study whose focus is on commercial aircrafts. The data collected was specific to pitfalls such as altitude deviation, lateral deviation and operational deviations. Latitude and altitude deviations are those that resulted in runway transgressions, loss of vertical and lateral aircraft separation as well as heading and track deviations. Data on operational deviations was collected from incidents involving hear-back errors, communication equipment malfunctioning, read-back errors and total loss of communication between the ATCs and pilots.

C. Participants:

In order to achieve the objectives of this study, a total of 500 reported commercial aircraft incidents related to ATCs and pilot communication will be reviewed and analysed. These incidents are those reported in the NLR Air Safety Database between 2010 and 2013. The researcher believes that the identified incidents are representative of the situation in the specified period. The data collected was limited reported incidents involving commercially operated aircrafts that were as a result of communication breakdowns between commercial pilots and ATCs.

D. Statistical Analysis:

This study will involve the use of a quantitative research design that calls for quantitative statistical analysis tools. The collected data will be organized and sorted using Microsoft excel while a multivariate analysis regards the various communication pitfalls will be carried out using SPSS data analysis software. SPSS software will be used to carry out various statistical tests such as the T-Test. Moreover, regression and correlation analysis will be carried out to determine the relationship between various causes of communication breakdowns between the ATCs and the pilots and the identified communication pitfalls.

Works Cited

Airbus. Flight Operations Briefing Notes: Human Performance Effective Pilot Controller Communications.» Airbus. N. p., Sept. 2004. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

Cardosi, Kim M. An analysis of tower (local) controller-pilot voice communications. No. DOT VNTSC-FAA-94-11. John A Volpe National Transportation Systems Center Cambridge MA, 1994.

Cushing, Steven. «Pilot–air traffic control communications: It’s not (only) what you say, it’s how you say it.» Flight Safety Digest 14.7 (1995): 1-10.

Van Es, G. «Air-Ground communication safety study: Analysis of pilot-controller occurrences.» Eurocontrol DAP/SAF Ed 1 (2004).