April 5, 2018

Improving VFR Communications


COPA eFlight is initiating this week a series of five articles on VFR communications. These articles aim at improving overall safety in the air. One can be as cautious as possible in the air; good clear accurate communications will nevertheless always enhance the success of the see and be seen concept that applies in VFR flight. These five articles will appear in five consecutive issues of eFlight.

These articles are courtesy of a long time COPA member (since 1964), Michel Pomerleau. Michel had a successful military career where he flew numerous types including the C-130 Hercules, UH-1 Huey, and Flight Instructor on the CT-114 Tutor. He has accumulated more than 11000 flight hours, including 6500 on multi-engine and 2500 on recreational aircraft. He obtained his ATPL in 1970 and has also flown the KingAir 350 and Learjet 45. Michel built his own original design aircraft and has accumulated 1750 hours on it over the past 33 years. He is Captain of COPA Flight 46. His first column is on improving VFR communications outside controlled airspace.

For more than five decades, I have flown far and wide in the military, corporate and private environments. Over time, I have noted a number of deviations, extra verbiage and unnecessary duplication in VFR communications in uncontrolled airspace. Even though VFR radio work is considered acceptable, it is not kept standardized as well as the more formal and strict IFR regime. Having gradually evolved over some past decades, imperfections in this regard have become acceptable and are being perpetuated through the teachings of our flight schools. A few articles on this subject have recently been published in different aviation venues and one of mine appeared in Quebec in the magazine Aviation. Since it was a lengthy text, I offer COPA a few short articles for perusal of the membership.

TC’s direction in this regard is as follows: Aeronautical communications should be brief, clear and standardized (COMM5.9).  Also, special emphasis is to be placed on the standardization of aeronautical phraseology in order to promote understanding of

messages and so reduce the length of radio transmissions. It is in this perspective that our CAR’s, TC’s AIM, their phraseology guide, videos and posters have been produced, and also the objective of this series of articles.

First, I would like to state the following premise: Pilots flying in and around uncontrolled airports and airspace must essentially assume the role of ATC controllers and broadcast the same information that would be required of them for flights in Tower and Terminal Control Zones and Areas using appropriate phraseology. And this should apply equally on the ground as in the air. The different points being addressed hereafter will be covered sequentially as in a typical flight, three of which I will cover in this first article.

AWAS\LWAS often not taken advantage of. This automatic equipment has been installed at many airports to provide current weather reports to departing and approaching aircraft. Mentioning its reception on initial contact with the operator will avoid an unnecessary repetition of the information while reducing air time on the frequency. Also, this information can be very helpful during long cross country flights to get the local altimeter settings and actual weather along the way. Of course, ForeFlight and such offer more in this regard. So, just like before contacting Ground Control or the Tower where taking the ATIS is required beforehand, we should do the same when operating at an MF or ATF that offers the service. A typical transmission would be: ‘XXX Unicom, Cessna 172 FABC, with the information, taxiing Alpha to hold short of RWY XX’.

Altimeter Setting not read back. The practice of repeating an altimeter setting when provided by an agency is universal and intended to ensure that the data is correctly understood and set on the instrument.

Departure Intentions omitted. In a control zone, these intentions are provided to Ground prior to taxiing and will be followed by the Tower issuing a specific heading and altitude to be complied with. Elsewhere, it is required to follow the procedure as it is stated for an MF which states that the pilot-in-command SHALL report his departure procedure intentions before moving onto the take-off surface. Note that broadcasting these intentions before take-off negates the need to do so on initial climb out and gives timely notice of the intended flight path to all aircraft operating in the area. And, in so doing, allows constant concentration during this critical phase of flight. Different examples follow: ‘XXX radio\Unicom\Traffic, FABC take-off RWY XX touch-and-goes, or for the circuit, or for local 30 minute flight to the South 2000 feet, or departing Westbound VFR for CYXX 4500 feet’.

The following videos produced by SmartPilot.ca are recommended viewing: