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Training Tip: 'Do not overload the controller'Training Tip

Here’s a communications scenario any pilot might encounter departing an airport in radar-controlled airspace: You are flying an assigned heading. The vector is for traffic, but the 060-degree heading you got is not taking you in the desired direction of your westbound course.
How would you make a request of an overworked controller?

A rapid series of calls from inbound and outbound aircraft has kept the approach/departure controller busy, and you are anxious to turn on course before you venture so far in the wrong direction that you would have to intercept your VFR course from an unexpected position many miles from the departure airport. Now sufficient time has elapsed since the heading was assigned, and you are wondering whether you were forgotten in the flurry of activity on the congested frequency.

The radio suddenly goes quiet. Now’s a chance to get a word in edge-side first. How will you communicate your wishes to the overworked controller?

Fortunately, you have had numerous opportunities to hear the good and the bad of radio transmissions. Monitoring ATC frequencies has taught you that clarity and brevity of message get the job done, while the opposite often have a ripple effect on the traffic picture—or, as the section of the Aeronautical Information Manual on radio communications phraseology and techniques notes, “Radio communications are a critical link in the ATC system. The link can be a strong bond between pilot and controller or it can be broken with surprising speed and disastrous results.”

You recall a recent example of the bond almost breaking: The pilot of an aircraft in a situation similar to yours was attempting to communicate with ATC, transmitting a long, querying message marked by a halting delivery and unclear intentions. Worse, the pilot interjected the transmission just as the controller was about to give arrival instructions to a fast aircraft. The controller kept his cool, and got the job done, but his aggravation was palpable.

Fortunately, you’ve decided exactly what you will say, based on another bit of communications advice from the AIM discussion that urges pilots to “use discretion; do not overload the controller with information unneeded or superfluous.”

With that advice in mind, you pause for a second to verify that the air is clear, then you call departure control and simply say, “Piper 530TT requests on course.”

Job well done. The controller calls you back immediately and speaks the magic words: “Resume own navigation.”

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Airport, Learn to Fly, Pilot Training and Certification

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