Communication errors or breakdowns between pilots and air traffic controllers (ATC) have been reported to be on the list of the factors commonly contributing towards aircraft accidents or serious incidents. In fact, incorrect or incomplete pilot / controller communications cause approximately 80 % of all aviation incidents or accidents. The most common misunderstandings between each other appear due to incorrect usage of standard phraseology, poor language skills or failures of the read-back/hear-back process. AviationCV.com experts point out that pilots and controllers are involved in the air traffic management system equally. Achieving effective radio communications depends on many factors that should not be considered in isolation.
‘Sometimes pilots receive false clearance from the air traffic control because their call sign sounds similar to another call sign on the same frequency. Sometimes they hear what they expect to hear and not what is actually being said. Sometimes the clear radio frequency is just not clear enough. However, the most common problem between controllers and pilots is a mutual lack of understanding with regard to each other’s capabilities. Controllers are not magicians who can read pilots’ minds or predict their intentions. All in all, communication with ATCs involves exchanging safety-critical information and successful communication relies on the use of standard phraseology whenever possible,’ said Skaiste Knyzaite, the CEO at AviationCV.com
According to S.Knyzaite, the first and foremost important lesson for pilots learning to use the right words is not to be afraid of using the wrong words. Section 2 of AIM Chapter 4, "Radio Communications Phraseology and Techniques," covers the basics of all aviation communications. The section provides the information about the essentials — radio technologies, contact procedures, aircraft call signs, ground station call signs, and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) phonetic alphabet.
Another factor which often leads to mistakes is the fact that pilots sometimes omit some of the information the controller needs. At a busy airport, where air traffic can be very heavy at times, it might be difficult for anyone to get a word in edgeways. Students must learn not to punch the mic button and speak to controllers spontaneously, but to formulate their statements mentally before actually speaking with ATC.
‘Actually, the main thing, along with good actual language skills, is not to be afraid to confirm clearance. This also means listening carefully to other communications on the frequency in order to build situational awareness. Several things, that could be done to avoid misunderstandings and tragic accidents or incidents are the following: do not be afraid to ask controllers for deviations as many miles in advance as possible, be brief during check-in, be attentive to the frequency, especially on the VFR; be prepared to go with an alternative plan; provide controllers with detailed pilot reports, which helps controllers to share the information with other pilots and get a more accurate picture of weather conditions,’ commented S.Knyzaite.
It is impossible to change humans to fix the problems, however the system can be amended to remedy the issues that might impede the communication between controllers and pilots. Proper training for pilots and controllers involves more practice so that both pilots and controllers have the opportunity to gain enough knowledge needed to understand the required and recommended SOPs. According to AviationCV.com, implementing a mechanism for language proficiency assessment for both pilots and controllers ensures that everyone is at the ICAO recommended level (level 4) or above.