October 2008 Issue

Pilot and Air Traffic Controller Communication

In our dynamic ATC system, pilots and controllers have to be on their toes to ensure everyone is working from the same page.

When you think about it, the IFR system is really a wondrous thing. For example, every airport, navaid, fix and procedure has certain basic characteristics shared by all other similar facilities. For another example, a unique name or identifier is assigned, helping eliminate confusion between ATC and pilots. To navigate from one to another, the operator requests a route, naming the various facilities to be used. A flight plan is filed, or a radio request is made, a controller compares the request to his or her needs and a clearance is issued. On one level, itís a simple system. On another, itís incredibly complex. So complex, in fact, errors are found every day by pilots and controllers, and then corrected. The result is a relatively safe and efficient national airspace system. One of the keys to making it all work, however, is pilots and controllers cross-checking each otherís work. Most of the time, no errors are found. Sometimes, though, someone forgets something, or the system proves too inflexible. In those situations, operators and ATC sit down to figure out what went wrong and develop procedures to consider each otherís needs. This is my tale of finding an omission in the system, and how little effort it took for a fix to be implemented.

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