The importance of proper communication

I was buzzing around CYFD earlier today in GBSL(in the picture below) practicing some forced approaches. The skies were clear and of course there were lots of planes in the circuit with me.

My practice runs were as follows:

  • take off runway 05
  • climb to 1,800’ ASL (circuit altitude) then make a right hand turn to 090 and continue climbing to 3,000’
  • turn to 270, fly over the field at 3,000’ and cut the engine then join a high mid-left downwind for 05

I was making radio calls all along the way and listening to make sure there is no conflicting traffic (Brantford is an uncontrolled airport by the way). Here’s approximately what my exercises looked like:

My forced approach practice path As I was coming around to overfly the field and join the left downwind with a simulated engine failure, an aircraft makes the following radio call:

ABCD joining for a mid crosswind 05

Usually at an uncontrolled airport airplanes join straight in downwind or mid-downwind. I was at 3,000’ and I could not see the airplane. I then decided not to continue with my exercise but rather turn around, descend to circuit altitude on the inactive side of the runway then join mid left downwind and practice engine failures from there.

I spoke to a few instructors afterward and it turns out the aircraft was joining the circuit properly at mid-downwind although they did agree the radio call was very confusing. In retrospect I should have asked for clarification but maintaining my altitude was a good choice as well.

Proper communication is vital, especially in aviation. People need to know where you are and you need to know where they are so you don’t interfere with each other in a very unfortunate way. Standard language has been developed to avoid confusion and allow pilots to communicate concisely and fully. Like everything in aviation, language changes and it is up to the pilot to keep up to date and communicate in a way that allows the others to understand.

Lessons Learned

  • Communication is key and practice is essential
  • When in doubt, ask for clarification. Your life may be at stake.

For an extra look at what can happen when communication goes awry, check out Jason Schappert’s video about a United pilot getting confused while taxiing off the active runway. It reminds me of the Tenerife disaster.