A Great Pilot


 An Even Better Communicator




Captain Adams in the cockpit

For airline pilots, communication is probably the second most important skill, right behind the flying experience.  It plays a major role in getting the flying public from one place to another.  Their whole job is wrapped around it and they must be able to execute it perfectly.

I was able to sit down with Captain Keith Adams for an interview and get an idea on what it is like to be an airline pilot.  He works for United Airlines and flies the Boeing 737.  A normal day for Captain Adams is meeting with the first officer and reviewing the flight plan, which is written in some technical form.  After, he must brief the entire crew on what to expect for the day.  Then, he has to properly communicate with gate agents, flight attendants, ground personnel, air traffic control, and other airplanes.  Pilots would not talk to the flight attendants the same way they would to air traffic control because the lingo changes.

“You will not get very far in aviation without communication,” said Captain Adams.  When pilots fly, they have to know whom they are talking to, why they are talking to them, and what type of communication to use.

Written communication is just as important in this industry.  “Documents such as maintenance reports must be very precise when writing them in the captain’s log,” Captain Adams told me.  There are numerous reasons why a captain would have to write a technical report.  Some reasons could be for aircraft malfunctions and some for in-flight airplane emergencies, which causes the pilots to land at a different airport than they had planned for.  This is a big deal because landings at unplanned airports do not happen as often as people think and important people need to be notified.

A captain even has the authority to deny boarding to a passenger that he or she thinks will cause harm to him or herself or any of the other passengers. “I had to deny a passenger here in the states wanting to fly to Europe because she was sick and I thought that she would get the other passengers sick, or worsen her condition,” Captain Adams said.  Since this was the case, the captain had to write a detailed report stating reasons why this happened the way it did.

Other forms of written communication could be messages sent from the aircraft to other controllers, but not as technical as a report.  These scenarios could be flying oversees to other countries that know English, but do not know how to speak it properly.  “We have a program called CPDLC, which stands for controller pilot data link communications.  It works like a text message and we are basically messaging foreign air traffic controllers certain details about our flight.  We do this so we do not have to talk to them on the radio and possibly miss an important instruction because of their inability to properly communicate,” Captain Adams explained.

Before a pilot can communicate, he or she must first be able to listen.  “A pilot never wants to lose his or her situational awareness,” said Captain Adams.  Having situational awareness means listening not only to the air traffic controller, but other pilots as well.  This helps build a mental picture of what is going on around the pilots and lets them act accordingly.  While airplanes may change from two to four engines or props to jets, one thing that will always stay the same in aviation is the fact that we communicate.


Posted by Matthew Adams, guest blogger



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