INCIDENT'LY A Turn of the Phrase, So to Speak

A Turn of the Phrase, So to Speak

Verbal communication in the aviation world is made up of concise phrases containing "key" words. The "key" words contained in a message not only help the speaker get to the point quickly, but they also alert the listener as to what command or type of information is coming before it is actually said. For example, if a controller said to you "Six thousand at CHINC, direct BOSCO November six one five five lima point out," notice that you had to listen to the entire sentence before you became aware of what was being asked of you.

If the controller had started the sentence with the "key" word in the correct sequence, you would have known exactly what was wanted of you at the start, as well as what type and pattern of information would follow: "Point out, at CHINC, November six one five five lima, direct BOSCO at 6,000." Any tendency to shortcut the process by eliminating "key" words, or lapsing into conversational (nonstandard) phraseology, essentially catches the listener off guard and puts that person into a catch-up mode. People can function in a catch-up mode; however, the chance of an error or misunderstanding is more likely to occur at that time.

Think about what the recipient (controller or pilot) may be doing at the time a communication is directed to him or her. Neither pilots nor controllers are constantly awaiting a communication, with pen/pencil in hand, ready to copy the instant you call. The pilot may be busy providing a passenger briefing, logging engine performance figures, trying to solve a mechanical problem, entering that last routing change into the flight management computer, changing VOR headings or frequencies, studying a chart or manual, or even eating a donut and sipping hot coffee; in other words, distracted. Your communications are important and if you use the right combination of words, you can get the attention of the other person and at the same time prime him or her to receive the correct message without your having to repeat it. Accurate receipt of messages the first time saves time and aggravation.

When the ACID (aircraft identification) is used, you get the right pilot's attention. When the "key" word or phrase is stated, you get that pilot set and ready for what's coming next. Will it work if you say, "Delta 222 fly two zero zero?" Probably, but the listener had to fill in the blanks and in effect translate your message. There is room for misinterpretation because the listener won't know exactly what it is you want, even after the entire sentence is completed, and will have to guess. If the guess is correct, you will get a heading change. The word "fly" by itself is nonspecific because it could signal that route, or heading, information will follow. However, if the crew were primed for or thinking about altitude, they could guess wrong (even though air traffic controllers know that the term "fly" should never be used in conjunction with an altitude clearance). But, if you stated, "Delta 222 turn right heading two zero zero," the pilot immediately knows exactly what you want and will be waiting for a compass direction expressed in three numerals. The key words were "turn" and "heading" and helped get the pilot ready to receive the correct message.

Successful communication in the aviation environment is the use of the "key" action words found in standard phraseology. These "key" words prime the listener to expect a certain action or set of instructions to follow. The most common "key" words are listed on page 10. Look carefully at what purpose they fill and what they signify to the recipient.

You certainly can think of other "key" words or phrases which will alert the listener to what kind of message is coming up. The point is that when "key" words are used consistently, the listener is able to get into the appropriate frame of mind to receive the message accurately. If you beat around the bush, when you communicate with a controller or pilot, you make it harder for him or her to understand your message.

Pilots will attempt to be more attentive generally when they are close to the airport in an attempt to get the traffic picture and figure out to some extent where they will fit into it. Contrary to popular belief, a pilot will not, nor can he or she, listen attentively to each transmission which is made by the controller. This is why it is important to use phraseology which can break through and get the receiver's attention centered quickly on what you want them to do.

Think about it.

Keep it simple, keep it precise. Use standard "key" phrases and see if it doesn't make your job easier.
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