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OA940
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Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sat Jun 29, 2019 11:19 pm

Sorry if this is a silly question or if this belongs in another place, but this question has been on my mind for a while and I'm getting a bit worried, as I'm planning to pursue a career in aviation pretty soon.

I've been listening to ATC communications and stuff on youtube or LiveATC etc. and I'm having some trouble understanding what they're saying, but mainly because of the quality of the sound. I was wondering if it's just the quality online, or if that's a problem that comes up in real life for pilots/ATC, and in that case what do they do? Once again sorry if that's a silly question, but I just want to clarify things
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SierraPacific
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sat Jun 29, 2019 11:24 pm

The quality is much better in the aircraft when compared to the online stuff. The other tip I can give is to anticipate what the controller is going to say since if you are on your game and know what they are going to say it is much easier.


There isn't a problem with asking for the controller to say again either :)
 
a320fan
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sat Jun 29, 2019 11:25 pm

Quality in a real aircraft has always been a lot better than what you hear online, and that's only in my GA experience, wouldn't be surprised if the big jets have it even better again. Add to that pilots generally are expecting what they hear from ATC, which makes it easier to quickly decipher.
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SuseJ772
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sat Jun 29, 2019 11:27 pm

Simple answer: no, not always.

I will say I find it easier to “hear” ATC when I am flying a plane versus on the ground. For one, I find when I have a specific tail number (or flight number for the airline guys) you hear it in a way that pops out versus when you are just listening to everyone.

Of course you also have context (ie I know I am heading north, 50nm from my destination airport) that helps anticipate what is coming that makes it easier to “hear”.

Of course expierence helps a lot as well.

But to say that pilots always hear everything - and more importantly always understand what is being said - the answer is no. We still have issues sometimes hearing and understanding on the first try. There should be no shame in asking for clarification if one suspects they may have not heard everything.
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SocalApproach
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sat Jun 29, 2019 11:29 pm

I think for the most part you as a pilot are already anticipating what ATC is going to say anyways so you are just waiting to readback the instruction. Unfortunately while anticipation is normal it does sometimes lead to incursions such as a pilot already expecting a clearance for takeoff but this time it was just a "line up and wait" instruction
 
G500Captain
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sat Jun 29, 2019 11:32 pm

Not a silly question at all. If you listen to LiveATC long enough you will definitely hear communication issues from time to time. There are many reasons why, local dialects, interference from weather, and frequency congestion are just a few. Usually when we have these types of issues, we and the controllers slow down and try to enunciate more clearly or maybe have to phonetically spell out an intersection or something similar. That usually resolves it but if not (as in the case of weather or congestion) just waiting for a bit might clear up the frequency also.

The real fun ones are flying over sea’s. Especially when you’ve flown all night and now you have to try an talk to French or Italian controllers, that can be a real chore!!
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spacecadet
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jun 30, 2019 12:57 am

No, pilots don't always understand. "Say again" is actually official phraseology, as is "I don't understand". Pilots will say the former when they just didn't hear something properly, and that happens all the time. The latter you don't hear nearly as much, but you might if you're hearing a low hours pilot who's been given an instruction he's never heard before and can't figure out. There's also an official phrase for "speak slower" but I don't remember what it is... maybe just that. But there's even a video on one of the aviation YouTube channels (I think the Air Safety Institute) where one of the ARTCC controllers says he's been asked to speak more slowly, and he doesn't take offense because he knows controllers can get a little nuts with their speed sometimes. They say the same things over and over so they just want to get instructions out and done with, but pilots often *aren't* hearing those same instructions every day so they do sometimes ask the controller to slow down.

I will say that being able to receive instructions quickly is specifically part of pilot training. Especially with things like clearances, pilots are expected to be ready to copy (which literally means that; writing the clearance down) and have a shorthand that works for them so they can write as quickly as the controller is speaking. In those cases, though, pilots basically already know what the controller's going to say.

The times when there are often mis-hearings or misunderstandings are usually when there's some kind of irregular procedure going on that pilots aren't expecting to hear. Then you might hear a lot of "say agains" or even an occasional pilot deviation because the pilot did what he expected to hear rather than what he was actually instructed. (Avoiding this is also part of pilot training, but it still happens.)
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VS11
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jun 30, 2019 1:09 am

Sound quality is contingent on the equipment used - headsets and mics, and how closely the mic is held to the mouth. It is very hard when the controller mumbles and you struggle to distinguish words.
 
Avgeek21
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jun 30, 2019 4:10 am

No not always. A few things come to mind; quality of your headset, quality of broadcasting equipment, how tired you are, familiarity with your ATC surroundings and if you are a sharp cookie or not. And if you don't understand it then simply don't try and guess. I hear it often where they reply bits and bobs and you get looooong pauses. Just say; "say again." Simple.

-My ANR headset was expensive and is now 12 years old. But still awesome. My volume is sometimes turned wayyyy down whilst my copilot has his turned more than half way up (that is LOUD!) and still misses the call, or parts of it. And yes age does play a role here.
-Sometimes the region where you fly has old equipment. If you are situationally aware you can pick up on that and highten your alert. And sometimes the ATC is just unreadable. Think HF.
-At times it's hard to catch a call when you are tired. It just happens. Doesn't matter if ATC volume of aircraft is low or high.
-You are kinda supposed to know when you can expect a call or supposed to make a call. Nowadays we have excellent EFB's with more info on it than you could ever dream of.
-Some poeple make personal notes of frequencies and when they get a call or need to make a call. Then they use it next time etc etc. I don't but on routes/airways I fly often I do try and remember the sequence of frequencies and the individual frequency of the ones we use a lot. You can also figure out who is ahead of you and try and listen to his instructions cause yours will most likely be the same in a few minutes. Also have the right plate pulled up on your EFB in high workload environments so you can glance over whilst on the microphone to confirm what you think ATC said. Situational awareness thing.

And last but not least; KISS principle. Keep It Simple Stupid... Use clear and concise communication and at least try to make an effort. Learn from what you hear on the radio or your collegue and apply it yourself to get better. In my opinion especially a Captain should lead by example and an FO should learn and try to be better than the Captain. So once he/she upgrades the bar has truly been raised and we all improve. It's not difficult but many people are lazy or ignorant. Remember we are all human too and whoever is on the flightdeck is a resemblence of society.
 
b4thefall
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jun 30, 2019 4:26 am

On a slightly related topic... my job involves using walkie talkies. I remember on my first night training, I panicked, because I couldn't understand a single word anyone was saying! I got used to it over the course of time however. I guess pilots do too.
 
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jun 30, 2019 4:35 am

As someone who works in corporate and talks with pilots and FA's on a daily basis over the phone, I can hardly understand what some of them are saying. Except when I say "Can you repeat that" or "I don't understand you" they start getting upset. Oh well. The ones that I interact with the best are the ones who clearly speak their name, employee ID #, and what they are calling about. I'm not a mind reader.
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Jouhou
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jun 30, 2019 4:39 am

b4thefall wrote:
On a slightly related topic... my job involves using walkie talkies. I remember on my first night training, I panicked, because I couldn't understand a single word anyone was saying! I got used to it over the course of time however. I guess pilots do too.


I think that's why emergency communications tend to be repeated 3 times like "Fire Fire Fire" or I guess in aviation "Mayday Mayday Mayday" followed by details.

When I use the intercom system at work I usually repeat my message twice.
 
Babyshark
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jun 30, 2019 5:31 am

As others have said, no. Not even in an airliners is it a guarantee to be clear and understandable. Some aircraft like the 737 are super loud. Some, mostly Boeing and Douglas, don't have intercoms so the crew talks to each other over the noise with one ear muff off. The RJs and turboprops had better systems. The Airbus has an intercom but even then it's all about your headsets. Still, there can be interference and blocked communications from too many talking at once. Some pilots can't help but key the mic the moment they switch to a new frequency and block everyone. Sometimes ATC runs multiple frequencies and quips at the pilots like it's their fault for not knowing someone on another frequency they can't hear is talking. Also confusion or low awareness of the AIM can cause problems. SLC really had a time with RNAV departures (no longer an issue) but pilots back then struggled to understand if ATC wanted you to climb to an altitude and comply with crossing restrictions or not because the phraseology was not what was being used elsewhere.

And sometimes words you wouldn't think sound a like do... like Southwest and Delta. And when I fly over France, I don't understand anything through the accents. And in Chicago O'Hare they talk so fast on ground and they don't even give you time to respond. Also there can be local customs that if you're not used to it then you don't know what they're saying, so in those places coded taxi routes help. Also CPDLC will help as well where we get our communication with ATC via a "text". That's extremely helpful.

But ATC is and isn't standard from airport to airport (at least in the States) and pilots "is and isn't" always standard either. And then there is the old man pilot who just thinks the world revolves around him and his flight and he has no clue what ATC is trying to get him to do... but his FO hopefully does.
 
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jun 30, 2019 6:39 am

The worst facility I’ve come across so far is Mumbai Oceanic. Absolutely awful. Between the terrible HF radios and their accent, it’s almost better not even trying. I’m not trying to sound like an ass as I know not everyone speaks English well, but they’re especially bad. Plus it’s a VERY busy area. The first time I flew over there, I tried for over an hour to get a position report in (no CPDLC), and finally just made it in the blind and switched frequencies at the boundary. There’s only so much you can do. So long story short, no, we don’t always understand and sometimes there’s nothing we can do about it so you just deal with it as best you can.
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BA777FO
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jun 30, 2019 8:10 am

Acey559 wrote:
The worst facility I’ve come across so far is Mumbai Oceanic. Absolutely awful. Between the terrible HF radios and their accent, it’s almost better not even trying. I’m not trying to sound like an ass as I know not everyone speaks English well, but they’re especially bad. Plus it’s a VERY busy area. The first time I flew over there, I tried for over an hour to get a position report in (no CPDLC), and finally just made it in the blind and switched frequencies at the boundary. There’s only so much you can do. So long story short, no, we don’t always understand and sometimes there’s nothing we can do about it so you just deal with it as best you can.


Submitted in error. Sorry!
Last edited by BA777FO on Sun Jun 30, 2019 8:15 am, edited 2 times in total.
 
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jun 30, 2019 8:14 am

Acey559 wrote:
The worst facility I’ve come across so far is Mumbai Oceanic. Absolutely awful. Between the terrible HF radios and their accent, it’s almost better not even trying. I’m not trying to sound like an ass as I know not everyone speaks English well, but they’re especially bad. Plus it’s a VERY busy area. The first time I flew over there, I tried for over an hour to get a position report in (no CPDLC), and finally just made it in the blind and switched frequencies at the boundary. There’s only so much you can do. So long story short, no, we don’t always understand and sometimes there’s nothing we can do about it so you just deal with it as best you can.


At least Mumbai oceanic has CPDLC now. It's avreal game changer in areas that rely on HF coverage, it's transformed eastern Africa and the Indian ocean.

I can't wait until CPDLC is coverage is rolled out across the USA, 15 frequency changes between Boston and Washington center on the way down the east coast is tedious!
 
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Starlionblue
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jun 30, 2019 8:21 am

I'll throw in fatigue as a factor. If you're really tired, it is easy to miss or misunderstand calls.

Some controllers pile the instructions on and you lose track. I can remember "descend to 4000, cleared for the ILS zulu runway 27 approach, QNH 1007", but please pause and let me read back before you continue. :)

Acey559 wrote:
The worst facility I’ve come across so far is Mumbai Oceanic. Absolutely awful. Between the terrible HF radios and their accent, it’s almost better not even trying. I’m not trying to sound like an ass as I know not everyone speaks English well, but they’re especially bad. Plus it’s a VERY busy area. The first time I flew over there, I tried for over an hour to get a position report in (no CPDLC), and finally just made it in the blind and switched frequencies at the boundary. There’s only so much you can do. So long story short, no, we don’t always understand and sometimes there’s nothing we can do about it so you just deal with it as best you can.


"Mumbai Radio". A callsign that fills a pilot's heart with dread... :D

Indian controllers are notorious for talking fast and then getting annoyed when you don't understand them. Most controllers take "say again" as a hint that they should slow down and clarify as needed. The stereotypical Indian controller speeds up. Leading to "say again". Again. And again... The net effect is that communications actually take longer. Scratchy HF just adds another layer of frustration to the process. The accent doesn't help, but it isn't the core of the problem. Japanese controllers typically have strong accents, but they work hard at keeping it "standard" and they don't rush, so things work quite well.

Slow and clear the first time around means things actually end up being more efficient in total. As an example, UK controllers are superb. Very clear, excellent at keeping it "standard", and selcom sounding hurried. UK airspace is among the busiest in the world, and they still manage to vector aircraft all over the place with admirable efficiency.
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KingOrGod
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jun 30, 2019 9:09 am

Starlionblue wrote:
I'll throw in fatigue as a factor. If you're really tired, it is easy to miss or misunderstand calls.

Some controllers pile the instructions on and you lose track. I can remember "descend to 4000, cleared for the ILS zulu runway 27 approach, QNH 1007" but please pause and let me read back before you continue. :)

Acey559 wrote:
The worst facility I’ve come across so far is Mumbai Oceanic. Absolutely awful. Between the terrible HF radios and their accent, it’s almost better not even trying. I’m not trying to sound like an ass as I know not everyone speaks English well, but they’re especially bad. Plus it’s a VERY busy area. The first time I flew over there, I tried for over an hour to get a position report in (no CPDLC), and finally just made it in the blind and switched frequencies at the boundary. There’s only so much you can do. So long story short, no, we don’t always understand and sometimes there’s nothing we can do about it so you just deal with it as best you can.


"Mumbai Radio". A callsign that fills a pilot's heart with dread... :D

Indian controllers are notorious for talking fast and then getting annoyed when you don't understand them. Most controllers take "say again" as a hint that they should slow down and clarify as needed. The stereotypical Indian controller speeds up. Leading to "say again". Again. And again... The net effect is that communications actually take longer. Scratchy HF just adds another layer of frustration to the process. The accent doesn't help, but it isn't the core of the problem. Japanese controllers typically have strong accents, but they work hard at keeping it "standard" and they don't rush, so things work quite well.

Slow and clear the first time around means things actually end up being more efficient in total. As an example, UK controllers are superb. Very clear, excellent at keeping it "standard", and selcom sounding hurried. UK airspace is among the busiest in the world, and they still manage to vector aircraft all over the place with admirable efficiency.


Hey Starlion, that what you quote isn't really piling instructions on though is it? It's my standard approach clearance.

This however,

'Turn right HDG280 Descent altitude 4000, QNH1013, cleared ILS approach 25, speed 210+ til 10 there after 160+ to 5, report established'

is rather a lot though.
 
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Starlionblue
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jun 30, 2019 9:20 am

KingOrGod wrote:
Starlionblue wrote:
I'll throw in fatigue as a factor. If you're really tired, it is easy to miss or misunderstand calls.

Some controllers pile the instructions on and you lose track. I can remember "descend to 4000, cleared for the ILS zulu runway 27 approach, QNH 1007" but please pause and let me read back before you continue. :)

Acey559 wrote:
The worst facility I’ve come across so far is Mumbai Oceanic. Absolutely awful. Between the terrible HF radios and their accent, it’s almost better not even trying. I’m not trying to sound like an ass as I know not everyone speaks English well, but they’re especially bad. Plus it’s a VERY busy area. The first time I flew over there, I tried for over an hour to get a position report in (no CPDLC), and finally just made it in the blind and switched frequencies at the boundary. There’s only so much you can do. So long story short, no, we don’t always understand and sometimes there’s nothing we can do about it so you just deal with it as best you can.


"Mumbai Radio". A callsign that fills a pilot's heart with dread... :D

Indian controllers are notorious for talking fast and then getting annoyed when you don't understand them. Most controllers take "say again" as a hint that they should slow down and clarify as needed. The stereotypical Indian controller speeds up. Leading to "say again". Again. And again... The net effect is that communications actually take longer. Scratchy HF just adds another layer of frustration to the process. The accent doesn't help, but it isn't the core of the problem. Japanese controllers typically have strong accents, but they work hard at keeping it "standard" and they don't rush, so things work quite well.

Slow and clear the first time around means things actually end up being more efficient in total. As an example, UK controllers are superb. Very clear, excellent at keeping it "standard", and selcom sounding hurried. UK airspace is among the busiest in the world, and they still manage to vector aircraft all over the place with admirable efficiency.


Hey Starlion, that what you quote isn't really piling instructions on though is it? It's my standard approach clearance.

This however,

'Turn right HDG280 Descent altitude 4000, QNH1013, cleared ILS approach 25, speed 210+ til 10 there after 160+ to 5, report established'

is rather a lot though.


Sorry to be unclear. My example was not one with excessive instructions. Standard clearance.
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KingOrGod
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jun 30, 2019 9:28 am

Starlionblue wrote:
KingOrGod wrote:
Starlionblue wrote:
I'll throw in fatigue as a factor. If you're really tired, it is easy to miss or misunderstand calls.

Some controllers pile the instructions on and you lose track. I can remember "descend to 4000, cleared for the ILS zulu runway 27 approach, QNH 1007" but please pause and let me read back before you continue. :)



"Mumbai Radio". A callsign that fills a pilot's heart with dread... :D

Indian controllers are notorious for talking fast and then getting annoyed when you don't understand them. Most controllers take "say again" as a hint that they should slow down and clarify as needed. The stereotypical Indian controller speeds up. Leading to "say again". Again. And again... The net effect is that communications actually take longer. Scratchy HF just adds another layer of frustration to the process. The accent doesn't help, but it isn't the core of the problem. Japanese controllers typically have strong accents, but they work hard at keeping it "standard" and they don't rush, so things work quite well.

Slow and clear the first time around means things actually end up being more efficient in total. As an example, UK controllers are superb. Very clear, excellent at keeping it "standard", and selcom sounding hurried. UK airspace is among the busiest in the world, and they still manage to vector aircraft all over the place with admirable efficiency.


Hey Starlion, that what you quote isn't really piling instructions on though is it? It's my standard approach clearance.

This however,

'Turn right HDG280 Descent altitude 4000, QNH1013, cleared ILS approach 25, speed 210+ til 10 there after 160+ to 5, report established'

is rather a lot though.


Sorry to be unclear. My example was not one with excessive instructions. Standard clearance.


Aaah Gotcha now - roger. It also amazes me the centres that use sarcasm with non-native english speaking pilots. It just causes confustion and inevitable 'say-again'.
 
spacecadet
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jun 30, 2019 4:48 pm

Just to go back to sound quality a little bit, remember that LiveATC and most YouTube videos are recording from equipment on the ground that might also be on the edge of a coverage area. Obstacles, buildings, hills, or even the curvature of the Earth could be getting in the way of the ground ATC signal to that recording device, and the planes being recorded might just be flying nowhere near whoever's doing the recording.

The quality when flying is a *lot* clearer. The signal between airplanes and the controllers on the ground is following a basically unobstructed path, and sectors are ideally laid out so that when quality would drop off, you do a frequency change. It doesn't always work to that ideal and sometimes on the edge of a sector the controller can still sound a bit scratchy, but nothing like you often hear on LiveATC or YouTube.

I have a Radio Shack scanner that I used to use to listen to controllers and airplanes at JFK, which was about 2 miles away from me at the time, as the crow flies. The tower always sounded far away and static-y, but we also lived on an occasional takeoff pattern and when the planes were flying overhead, it was like the pilots were in the same room with me. That's just how radio waves work. It was almost startling how clear it was. But that's how it sounds most of the time when you're actually in the air.
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triple3driver
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jun 30, 2019 7:19 pm

Occasionally we do have issues understanding ATC, usually in foreign airspace, but in general, the quality is a lot better onboard then what you'll find online, and if we do have issues, we just ask to say again. But, a lot of it is dependent on the equipment that pilots personally use, I personally swear by the Bose A20, but they are rather pricey and really, I don't think that you can really go wrong with many of the options in terms of aviation specific headphones.
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OA940
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Mon Jul 01, 2019 6:40 pm

Thank you very much everyone, that was really helpful! :D
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Mon Jul 01, 2019 7:43 pm

There are a lot of local VFR procedures in my area that are not published outside of the airport website, so you'll sometimes hear unfamiliar pilots ask "what's that arrival?" and then tower explains it.
 
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longhauler
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Thu Jul 04, 2019 4:31 pm

As accurately noted above, if a pilot does not understand a clearance, he requests it restated until he does.

I think the funniest thing I heard was at YYZ last year. As it was the late evening Ground and Clearance Delivery were the same controlller. As we were taxiing in, Emirates received the clearance that was read at 120 knots, then told to stand by while other duties were completed. Every time the ATC Clearance readback was incorrect. The controller was getting madder and madder.

Finally Emirates stated very clearly ... "Say it clearly and slowly, we aren't moving until you do and may I remind you that YOU are here to serve ME".

(The cheers from other pilots on the frequency was a riot!) Good on Emirates!
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GoSteelers
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Thu Jul 04, 2019 7:49 pm

longhauler wrote:
As accurately noted above, if a pilot does not understand a clearance, he requests it restated until he does.

I think the funniest thing I heard was at YYZ last year. As it was the late evening Ground and Clearance Delivery were the same controlller. As we were taxiing in, Emirates received the clearance that was read at 120 knots, then told to stand by while other duties were completed. Every time the ATC Clearance readback was incorrect. The controller was getting madder and madder.

Finally Emirates stated very clearly ... "Say it clearly and slowly, we aren't moving until you do and may I remind you that YOU are here to serve ME".

(The cheers from other pilots on the frequency was a riot!) Good on Emirates!


Yeah well I’m going home on the end of my shift soon. If you have an attitude; I could give two shits if you are still at the gate. Reminds me of a time I FAM’ed and the pilot was irritated that the controller wasn’t giving him a decent. The pilot keyed up to the controller and told him in a smart ass way if he didn’t get down soon he would need to do an overhead instead of the landing. The pilot turned to me and giggled and asked what I would say to that. I replied I would say turn right heading 090, vector for decent, completely away from the airport.
 
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longhauler
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Fri Jul 05, 2019 12:23 am

GoSteelers wrote:
Yeah well I’m going home on the end of my shift soon. If you have an attitude; I could give two shits if you are still at the gate.


Indeed. ATC.

In this case though, he was not "at the gate", he was blocking a taxiway. And let me tell you, An A380 is a pretty effective block.

The point I was making though, in answer to OP's question is that a pilot is not likely to continue if he is unsure of his clearance. Regardless of how short tempered, the civil servant might be. Or ... the proximity to the end of his shift. If one does not understand the clearance ... one does not move.
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GoSteelers
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Fri Jul 05, 2019 12:37 am

No, the pilot is wrong. ATC isn’t there to serve him; we are there to serve everyone equally. I am sworn to provide safe and efficient service to everyone, whether you are in an A380 or a C182. I understand you have been flying long enough that you feel entitled cause you are flying a heavy, but don’t give me an attitude. It’s amazing that some of the heavy pilots are some of the worst in hearback/readbacks.
 
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longhauler
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Fri Jul 05, 2019 12:54 am

GoSteelers wrote:
ATC isn’t there to serve him; we are there to serve everyone equally.

Including Emirates.

GoSteelers wrote:
It’s amazing that some of the heavy pilots are some of the worst in hearback/readbacks.

Quite possibly. But it has little to do with the size of his equipment.

More likely the environment in which he is flying. Myself for example ... I have no problem understanding ATC in JFK or LAX, not quite the same as PVG or PEK. But the bottom line is still the same. Don't understand the clearance? Set the parking brake. Period.

Odd that you critique someone putting safety ahead of personal feelings.
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Starlionblue
Posts: 19270
Joined: Fri Feb 27, 2004 9:54 pm

Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Fri Jul 05, 2019 4:34 am

GoSteelers wrote:
No, the pilot is wrong. ATC isn’t there to serve him; we are there to serve everyone equally. I am sworn to provide safe and efficient service to everyone, whether you are in an A380 or a C182. I understand you have been flying long enough that you feel entitled cause you are flying a heavy, but don’t give me an attitude. It’s amazing that some of the heavy pilots are some of the worst in hearback/readbacks.


longhauler provided an amusing anecdote about ATC not making themselves understood, and having an attitude about it, and being told to chill. It's not like he was saying that every controller is arrogant and rude.

Most pilots and controllers are patient and professional. But let's not pretend there are not arrogant persons on both sides, or that people don't lose their tempers, or that people aren't tired and impatient sometimes. We've all heard pilots be arrogant and rude on the radio, just as we've all heard ATC be the same.
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo
 
geologyrocks
Posts: 149
Joined: Sun Nov 13, 2011 12:05 am

Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Mon Jul 08, 2019 11:27 pm

Center ATC side...

It's very difficult to understand controller-to-controller communications when you first start training. "Say again" is the only appropriate response when you don't understand what was said.

I change how I communicate based on both who I'm talking to and what I'm about to say. For something that is published and to an air carrier, I have no problem giving multiple things in the same transmission such as "Reduce now to 300kts then cross XXX at 13,000 and 250kts, altimeter..." because the crossing restriction and speed are published in the STAR as to be expected. If I'm talking about something not published then I'm going to give you two things at a time.

If I'm talking to a Skyhawk then I'm going to say one thing at a time and I'm going to say it a little slower.
 
Passedv1
Posts: 633
Joined: Sun Oct 07, 2012 3:40 am

Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Fri Jul 12, 2019 9:31 am

OA940 wrote:
Sorry if this is a silly question or if this belongs in another place, but this question has been on my mind for a while and I'm getting a bit worried, as I'm planning to pursue a career in aviation pretty soon.

I've been listening to ATC communications and stuff on youtube or LiveATC etc. and I'm having some trouble understanding what they're saying, but mainly because of the quality of the sound. I was wondering if it's just the quality online, or if that's a problem that comes up in real life for pilots/ATC, and in that case what do they do? Once again sorry if that's a silly question, but I just want to clarify things


You'll be fine. The big piece that you are missing on YouTube or liveatc.net is context. When you are flying the airplane you are expecting a runway crossing instruction or a landing clearance or a holding instruction etc. 99% of the time you know what's coming next. When you are listening casually you don't necessarily know that AA123 is holding short of 16L and has been waiting for his clearance to cross for the past 15 minutes. There was a departure and he knows he is next to cross

The other thing that comes with experience is to sort the CYA stuff from the real stuff. "AA123, wind is [email protected], birds on departure end, unauthorized laser illumination 2 miles south, heavy aircraft departed 2 minutes ago from the parallel runway, santa-claus sited over downtown, your wife is cheating on you, and your daughter is pregnamt... runway 16L - Cleared for take-off.

All a pilot hears is "cleared for take-off"
 
N1120A
Posts: 26488
Joined: Sun Dec 14, 2003 5:40 pm

Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Sun Jul 14, 2019 9:26 pm

Live ATC is just one tool in learning how to talk on the radios (and an effective one too - especially in dealing with learning CRAFT in your IFR training). Until you are in the cockpit and keying up, you won't quite understand how the pacing goes (slow and fast). You have to remember that everyone learns in a different place, in a different style. Some folks learn almost everything in a Class G environment and get shockingly poor when talking to terminal controllers. I learned in an environment where you speak to ATC 98% of the time, so I'd say my weakest radio and procedural work is at nontowered airports. That carries over into the air carrier world. US and Canadian pilots rarely have issues with talking to US and Canadian ATC, but I've heard them fumbling with controllers in other countries, and vice versa.
Mangeons les French fries, mais surtout pratiquons avec fierte le French kiss
 
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Starlionblue
Posts: 19270
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Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Mon Jul 15, 2019 3:37 am

N1120A wrote:
Live ATC is just one tool in learning how to talk on the radios (and an effective one too - especially in dealing with learning CRAFT in your IFR training). Until you are in the cockpit and keying up, you won't quite understand how the pacing goes (slow and fast). You have to remember that everyone learns in a different place, in a different style. Some folks learn almost everything in a Class G environment and get shockingly poor when talking to terminal controllers. I learned in an environment where you speak to ATC 98% of the time, so I'd say my weakest radio and procedural work is at nontowered airports. That carries over into the air carrier world. US and Canadian pilots rarely have issues with talking to US and Canadian ATC, but I've heard them fumbling with controllers in other countries, and vice versa.


Part of that is because US and Canadian controllers tend to use a lot of slang and non-standard language, which can make it really hard for non-native English speakers (and even native English speakers) to understand what is happening. Conversely, when US and Canadian pilots get to countries that are "very standard", they can have a hard time.
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo
 
G500Captain
Posts: 54
Joined: Sat Feb 24, 2018 2:36 am

Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Tue Jul 16, 2019 5:28 am

Starlionblue wrote:
N1120A wrote:
Live ATC is just one tool in learning how to talk on the radios (and an effective one too - especially in dealing with learning CRAFT in your IFR training). Until you are in the cockpit and keying up, you won't quite understand how the pacing goes (slow and fast). You have to remember that everyone learns in a different place, in a different style. Some folks learn almost everything in a Class G environment and get shockingly poor when talking to terminal controllers. I learned in an environment where you speak to ATC 98% of the time, so I'd say my weakest radio and procedural work is at nontowered airports. That carries over into the air carrier world. US and Canadian pilots rarely have issues with talking to US and Canadian ATC, but I've heard them fumbling with controllers in other countries, and vice versa.


Part of that is because US and Canadian controllers tend to use a lot of slang and non-standard language, which can make it really hard for non-native English speakers (and even native English speakers) to understand what is happening. Conversely, when US and Canadian pilots get to countries that are "very standard", they can have a hard time.


In my experience of flying around the world, level of standard phraseology has very little to do with how well pilots and controllers are able to understand each other. What really does have an effect is accents and how well both parties actually know English. For instance, when I’ve flown to Italy (from the US), I’ve found (and others in my department also) that their controllers can be very difficult to understand. Not because we don’t know standard phraseology, but their accent can be so thick, our issue is only trying to understand what they actually said. On the flip side I’m sure it is very difficult for an Italian pilot to come to the US and try to understand what is being said. Especially if say they entered US airspace in Boston Center, flies through NY and Washington Centers and then has to talk to Atlanta, those can all have very different accents and be hard to distinguish certain terms.

To my point, a week or two ago an official in Switzerland grounded somewhere around 30 Swiss pilots who were flying for airlines. He grounded them for not being able to clearly speak English. There have also been a number of accidents caused by either the controller or pilot’s lack of ability to speak English. See Cali, Columbia and American Airlines, the pilots misunderstood which beacon the controller cleared them to (both beacons had the same phonetic identifier) and when the controller saw them proceeding to the wrong fix, he wasn’t able to tell them they were going the wrong way because he didn’t know enough English.
Every time I get on an airliner, I’m reminded why I have a job.
 
Avgeek21
Posts: 42
Joined: Mon Mar 04, 2019 5:44 am

Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Tue Jul 16, 2019 6:58 am

My airline recently forced every pilot to again re-take an English Language Proficiency Test (ELP) according to International Standards and assessed by an Independant company abroad that specializes in it. Paid for by the company. We're an expat airline hence all sorts of nationalities and backgrounds. You had to pass minimum Level 4 as is the Industry standard. I have heard from some of my FO's that a few guys were atrocious on the radio and could barely pass a level 2. I guess they must have slipped through the net during assessment but were on the companies radar. Once the complaints started coming in they took action. A few pilots were taken offline and send for training and assessment.

Some pilots just have bad radio skills. You just have to hope that he/she isn't paired with another bad one. I do like to lead by example and do radio work properly and hoping it rubs off on someone else. If I can make a difference to one person I'd be happy. Not that I'm flawless or have a big ego but I take pride in knowing the standards as best I can and applying them.

Proper ATC comms is an art and beautiful when done properly. I know this one Captain we have and his ATC is just impecable every single time. Both in tone, prenounciation, delivery and technique. Beautiful to listen to but it propably falls on deaf ears with the majority out there.
 
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Starlionblue
Posts: 19270
Joined: Fri Feb 27, 2004 9:54 pm

Re: Do pilots always understand ATC?

Tue Jul 16, 2019 7:50 am

G500Captain wrote:
Starlionblue wrote:
N1120A wrote:
Live ATC is just one tool in learning how to talk on the radios (and an effective one too - especially in dealing with learning CRAFT in your IFR training). Until you are in the cockpit and keying up, you won't quite understand how the pacing goes (slow and fast). You have to remember that everyone learns in a different place, in a different style. Some folks learn almost everything in a Class G environment and get shockingly poor when talking to terminal controllers. I learned in an environment where you speak to ATC 98% of the time, so I'd say my weakest radio and procedural work is at nontowered airports. That carries over into the air carrier world. US and Canadian pilots rarely have issues with talking to US and Canadian ATC, but I've heard them fumbling with controllers in other countries, and vice versa.


Part of that is because US and Canadian controllers tend to use a lot of slang and non-standard language, which can make it really hard for non-native English speakers (and even native English speakers) to understand what is happening. Conversely, when US and Canadian pilots get to countries that are "very standard", they can have a hard time.


In my experience of flying around the world, level of standard phraseology has very little to do with how well pilots and controllers are able to understand each other. What really does have an effect is accents and how well both parties actually know English. For instance, when I’ve flown to Italy (from the US), I’ve found (and others in my department also) that their controllers can be very difficult to understand. Not because we don’t know standard phraseology, but their accent can be so thick, our issue is only trying to understand what they actually said. On the flip side I’m sure it is very difficult for an Italian pilot to come to the US and try to understand what is being said. Especially if say they entered US airspace in Boston Center, flies through NY and Washington Centers and then has to talk to Atlanta, those can all have very different accents and be hard to distinguish certain terms.

To my point, a week or two ago an official in Switzerland grounded somewhere around 30 Swiss pilots who were flying for airlines. He grounded them for not being able to clearly speak English. There have also been a number of accidents caused by either the controller or pilot’s lack of ability to speak English. See Cali, Columbia and American Airlines, the pilots misunderstood which beacon the controller cleared them to (both beacons had the same phonetic identifier) and when the controller saw them proceeding to the wrong fix, he wasn’t able to tell them they were going the wrong way because he didn’t know enough English.


I agree that the level on English, and the accent, certainly are the biggest factor.

However, it is unrealistic to expect all pilots to have native level English, and therefore using standard phraseology becomes especially important. This is an area where, in my opinion, US controllers could improve. It's all well and good to use non-standard but unambiguous language when everyone on the frequency is a native English speaker, but as soon as you throw pilots in the mix who have ICAO level 4 or 5, it becomes a problem. Compare with the UK, where controllers take pride in staying strictly standard, and are seldom misunderstood.

Conversely, of course, pilots should work hard on using standard phraseology and transmitting clearly, especially in busy airspace.

The best controllers seem to speak quite slowly and calmly, and they seem to get the job done faster than the fast talkers who have to repeat themselves.
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo

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