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Aug. 11, 2017 // CFS Panel Recap: Pilot/Controller Communications

What: Pilot/Controller Communications Panel

When: Tuesday, March 21, Communicating For Safety 2017


  • Dawn Johnson, Chair, Reloaded Committee, NATCA
  • Ashley Callen, CPC, Las Vegas ATCT, NATCA


  • Andy Marosvari, Procedures Rep, NATCA
  • John Drexler, Director for Air Traffic Control Procedures, ALPA
  • David Eiser, Safety Committee Chairman, SWAPA
  • Zoe Roberts, CPC, Indianapolis Center, NATCA
  • Paul Flynn, NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots
  • Leah Hickling, CPC, Southern California TRACON, NATCA
  • Paul Deres, Director, Education, AOPA Air Safety Institute

Watch the panel.

It is important for controllers to be clear and concise. Practice it all day, every day. That was one of the biggest takeaways from the Pilot/Controller Communications panel at Communicating For Safety (CFS) 2017.

“This panel is the basis for the whole conference,” said Callen. “Communication is the foundation of our job.”

Clear and concise phraseology and slower speech rate were dominant themes of the discussion. The pilots on the panel — representing commercial, general aviation, and air taxi operators — agreed that speaking louder doesn’t help, but slowing down does.

“The faster we (controllers) speak, the more likely they (pilots) are to miss it,” said Marosvari. “We need to keep our speech rate normal.”

Flynn said he is made aware of controllers’ workload based on their speech rate.

“When it’s busy and there’s traffic everywhere, we are aware of it and try to be sympathetic to it,” he said. “We operate out of airports all around the country. We’re interacting on UNICOMS (Universal Communications) where we show up and somebody is out on a Sunday afternoon and they’re trying to deal with jet traffic in a VFR (visual flight rules) world. Southern California is a great example. So many planes and airports — it is a lot to juggle.”



Hickling explained that it’s just as important for pilots to read back instructions clearly as it is for controllers to communicate them clearly. She said one challenge for Southern California TRACON (SCT) has been the implementation of new Metroplex airspace optimization procedures.

“A lot of us are not used to ‘climb via’ or ‘descend via’ instructions,” said Hickling, who also helps teach in SCT Metroplex training classes. She had a direct message for the controllers: “I told them, if you do nothing else, please, please practice phraseology. We have to get it right so the pilots can get it right.”

The panelists also discussed IFR (instrument flight rules)/VFR flights as part of the collaborative NATCA-FAA Take a Stand for Safety campaign. It addresses myths around IFR/VFR operations and encourages controllers to call traffic, issue safety alerts, and work with pilots to avoid conflicts.

Take a Stand for Safety addresses the myths that VFR aircraft, which operate under visual rules commonly known as “see and avoid,” don’t need or want service from air traffic control.

In addition, NATCA has expanded its outreach efforts to pilots through the use of pilot/controller communication cards. NATCA received a nice boost and great recognition this year from the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). In its newsletter sent to all of its members, EAA promoted NATCA’s quick reference cards for pilots, which provide information about several key safety issues.

Writes EAA: “NATCA has developed quick-reference guides for pilot-air traffic controller communication. The six cards provide succinct tips on basic information regarding airborne operations, ground operations, airspace, and weather. All pilots are free to download the cards to use as an additional resource when planning for flights.”

Since then, NATCA has added a seventh card, Takeoffs/Landings.

Links to the electronic versions of the NATCA cards:

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