Listen Up ATC

by Wally Moran on May 9, 2012

While returning from Sun and fun in Lakeland Florida last month on an IFR flight plan, I was disappointed to hear several lectures from the ATC controllers to the enroute pilots. Yes, it was extra busy as it was Sunday the last day of the show and there were lots of planes out there trying to get some attention. But the lectures I heard from ATC did nothing to help the situation.

Almost every frequency I used on that flight had an ATC comment something like “Everyone listen up out there,” “Don’t all try to talk at once,” One fellow was so frustrated that he said “ Don’t anyone talk, just listen, I will do all the talking and you do the listening.” Not a very professional solution to the problem and in fact these lectures simply wasted air time and made the situation worse.

While I can clearly understand the frustration that the controllers were experiencing, I would like to remind them that we as pilots have already been trained to listen up. The greatest percentage of problems are not caused by pilots not listening up, it is the fact that with multiple users on one frequency, no one can tell exactly when the next guy is going to push that transmit button. So we often wind up pushing it at the same time. That is what was happening this day in Florida. This is nobody’s fault; it is just a product of our party line type communication system.

In my years of flying into and out of many very busy airports populated with skilled controllers and professional pilots, blocked transmissions still occurred on a regular basis. This is not because the pilots did not know to listen up; they just can’t tell when the other guy is going to push that button. Some of the best ATC controllers I have worked with take control the conversation when things get very busy. For example; they will ask pilots to hold their read back while they issue multiple clearances and then get the pilots one at a time to confirm the read back.

Now I know that there are some pilots who are so poor at communication that they may need a lecture and perhaps even remedial work. When that is the case, please give them a phone number and do that work off the air.

So pilots, let’s pause a moment to organize our thoughts before we push that button and of course listen. Mr. ATC controller, please don’t give us lectures on the frequency as they won’t improve the situation. We all need to work together to make this system work.

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