Barbara Harper, ATP CFII MEI LRJetBarbaraHarper

From The Empire’s Library – Aeronautical Information Manual

For Freddie and Howard who are dedicated to the pursuit and solution of one problem – correct aviation phraseology

No one wants to be on the wrong end of the microphone when mistakes are made. Do you have the courage to shatter the stigma of phraseology literacy and cultivate a clear vision by listening and responding correctly? How can we as pilots clear the way and focus on improving our phraseology? There are many resources available, but the best one is the pilots’ operational bible – the Aeronautical Information Manual. Lists of the fundamental phrases are contained in this bible, pilot/controller glossary. Then why oh why do pilots still garble their transmissions with such things as roger-huh-over and out. For some, World Wars of I and II never ended! In fact, one of our most used phrases today is not included in the glossary, “Go ahead, make my day.”

Like flying, how does a pilot maintain proficiency in phraseology? According to ICAO, (International Civil Aviation Organization) “pilots and air traffic controllers need sufficient language proficiency to manage all of the potential requirements of communications, which can range from routine situations to circumstances not addressed but the limited phraseologies, as well as non-routine situations and outright emergencies.”

Verbal communication between pilots and air traffic controllers directly affects air transportation safety and performance. Communication errors in aircraft operations can have irreversible consequences and contribute to runway incursions, accidents, and loss of life. Accordingly, proper and effective application of communication skills by pilots and air traffic controllers is an important element in reducing the risk of misunderstandings that can result in disastrous crashes. Pilot and air traffic controller communities have given much attention to improving communications through training by emphasizing the importance of using standard aircraft operational phraseology.

Phraseology is the specialized language used by pilots and controllers to conduct unambiguous and effective communications. Phrases were created to cover the most common and routine situations in air navigation in order to ensure safety in communications. Still though, when facing situations for which phraseology does not exist, pilots and controllers must resort to a more natural language known as 'plain language'. Plain language has recently been defined as the "spontaneous, creative and non-coded use of a given natural language, although constrained by the functions and topics that are required by aeronautical communications, as well as by specific safety-critical requirements for intelligibility, directness, appropriacy, non-ambiguity and concision" (ICAO, 2010: 3.3.14).

Is your phraseology sloppy, non-conformative, unintelligible and plain down right wrong? In order to conform to ICAO language proficiency requirements, pilots and controllers who use English in communication must be at level 4 operational. Level 4 covers comprehension , responses that are usually immediate appropriate and informative, basic vocabulary, along with pronunciation. ICAO has 6 levels of language proficiency standards. Rate yourself on where you personally stand on this scale from 6 (highest) to 1 (lowest)? Level 1: Pre-elementary; Level 2: Elementary; Level 3: Pre-Operational; Level 4: Operational; Level 5: Extended; Level 6: Expert. And, not published, but thinking about establishing, Level 7: Read my lips if you can. 

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