The passing of generations is always an interesting time. We are seeing it in the ATC system as Reagan-era controllers look to slower lifestyles. The golden years probably don’t involve expensive human-occupied vehicles hurtling at each other at hundreds of knots.
With the changing of the guard also comes a lack of experience and the wisdom of years. I’ve seen this several times in the last few months in listening to some unusual clearances. Non-standard phraseology or a non-sequiteur is a tip off that the person on the other side of the mic is in a learning curve.
Don’t take this as a rant against new controllers (or pilots for that matter). None of us is born with thousands of hours or an immediate grasp of all the nuances that they don’t teach at “the Academy in Oke City”. Even with the best training there is a huge amount of OJT that goes on in almost every profession. In aviation, though, checks and balances are often the difference between a lapse and a real aw shucks!
The most recent reminder came on a hot soggy afternoon as I was clawing my way up to 8,000 feet in search of cool smooth air. I’d asked for a more direct routing which the controller was coordinating. Passing 7,000 he cleared me direct and advised that we’d need to go back to 6,000 in 15 miles. It seemed reasonable to level at 7,000 or go to 6,000 now – no point in crawling the last thousand only to have to give it right back. So I asked.
The controller repeated my direct-to clearance with nothing about altitude. Great ! — I’d introduced ambiguity into the equation and the controller had not dispelled it. Was I to continue to 8,000 (perhaps in his mind that was correct -since he’d said nothing or did he think I would just level at 7,000?).
I’ve learned over the years NEVER to be shy about such things so I pushed the issue – 7,000 or 6,000 – being hopeful I wouldn’t get sent to 8. There was a long silence and then “Descend and maintain 6,000.” No question now.
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I offer this as a reminder to all of us to really LISTEN. It’s hard in the routine of hundreds of transmissions but that’s what makes the difference between the pro and the know-it-all. The adage that it’s better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt, most certainly does NOT apply in aviation communications.