Can’t get a word in edgewise

October 8, 2009 by Bruce Landsberg

SIR SplashWe’ve all experienced a CTAF that was so jammed up that it was all but useless. This is from an Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) report by a Cirrus SR22 pilot.

“The frequency was so congested and “step ons” so frequent that I could not acquire situational awareness of the traffic in the area nor could I communicate my intentions. The safety of the flight was substantially compromised.

My understanding from FBO personnel is that this state of affairs is a common occurrence. The ability to communicate with other traffic
in the area is an essential tool for pilots to avoid bumping into each other.”

A few thoughts for your consideration:

1. Listen first before calling for an advisory – often all the info is available without further cluttering the freq.

2. Keep position announcements short.

3. When the freq is busy – no “optional” conversation should take place.

4. Extraneous radio checks – often done by flight schools – really shouldn’t be necessary. If the radios need checking on every flight, fix ’em or get ’em replaced!

5. Finally, if the freq. is consistently overloaded, think about applying to the Federal Communications Commission for a new one. It would be smart to check with the FAA Flight Standards District Office before starting the process to see if they have any suggestions or know of other considerations.

For a quick review of proper radio procedures across the board – try ASF’s free Say It Right: Mastering Radio Communication online course.

———————Break ——————————-

Quick and informal analysis from last weeks comments regarding where/what are obstacles to becoming a pilot:
47% – Time and Money

20% – Government Regulations

16% – Medical Requirements

9% – Didn’t like the Flight School or there isn’t one near them

8% – Think aviation needs to appeal to younger people. Make image “cooler”

My take away — economics and complexity are the largest problems. Now we need to figure out how to best address. My thanks to all who responded.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Jim McCord

    I’m sure most pilots have had a bad, or near disastrous CTAF experience at an uncontrolled field. My worst was in Petaluma CA where the pattern was full and yet a helicopter and the Unicom operator where monopolizing the frequency to determine the best place for the helicopter to park. My student was flying and I was making brief position reports when, on short final, someone called – “hey there are two of you on short final, you better get out of there!”. Terrifying words to be sure and we immediately made a gradual climb away from the pattern, never seeing the other aircraft.

    I DRILL my students about making brief, but accurate and complete position reports in the pattern – all the time – so it will be a habit when needed most. I bite my tongue when I hear a fellow aviator ramble on as I don’t think the CTAF is a place for an impromptu lesson, but I wonder if any of my fellow pilots have a suggestion of how to encourage proper radio use at uncontrolled airports?

  • Michael Yankaitis

    Regarding your “obstacles to becoming a pilot”, to me it was the perception of cost. Once I finally checked, it was surprisingly affordable. I think flight schools should lead with “Get your pilot liscense for $ xxx”. As far as flying costs, a nice plane can be bought for the price of today’s SUV’s. And as to justifying all the flying costs, my examiner told me before I bought my 172, “try to justify a bass boat”.

  • Bruce Landsberg

    Jim…. Have them look at the ASF safety advisor on non-towered airports and also take the free online course from ASF mentioned above.

    Michael …. Thanks for that view. In many cases what you say is true and so many schools and CFIs are far better pilots than marketeers. That said, there may be some ways to economize to help those who may be somewhat financially challenged.

    Thanks much for the comments…..

  • Ralph Daugherty

    Maybe losing the requirement for a radio operators license to be acquired in addition to the pilots license wasn’t for the best. Admittedly I’m still in RW training, but having spent slightly more than 1600 hours in simulated ATC communications (, I would like to think that time has been time well spent toward making me a quick but understandable communicator when I do have to talk to ATC or on the CTAF/UNICOM in the RW.

  • Neil Ulman

    Re cluttered CTAF: First, the problem isn’t too many calls, it’s calls that are too verbose. Who are you; where are you (including altitude, climbing or descending) and what are you intentions in the fewest possible words. Nothing wrong with repeating that every few minutes. And I find it helpful if a departing pilot says his intended altitude as well as direction.
    Second, the CTAF should be reserved for safety-related traffic only. Personal chitchat compromises safety. I’ve been guilty, too, but If we want to chat, we can ask our buddy to switch to 122.750, a frequency reserved by the FCC/FAA for “private, fixed-wing, air-to-air communications.” It might be salutary if the FAA/FCC monitored some CTAFs, nabbed a couple of chitchat violators and required them to pass the ASF “Say It Right” course to avoid further sanction. The word would get around and the chitchat might stop.
    Finally, “Say It Right” is a great course, but I have a quibble. It gives an example of a pilot requesting airport advisoriies on the CTAF at Frederick. According to the A/F Directory, Frederick had an AWOS. We should not be cluttering the CTAF to ask for weather when we can get it on the AWOS.

  • C Fred Crawmer

    Regarding CTAF congestion, what I find even more frightening is the lack of folks really listening to the communication. Twice recently I’ve had pilots ingnore my calls & yes, my radio works fine. One taxied outbound onto the taxiway I just turned onto inbound off the active while the other “incident” involved a takeoff from a conflicting runway after I made the takeoff call…& really I was listening!! Be safe out there.

  • Alex

    Great and informative points in your post. I really like it.