Posted: June 11th, 2022
1. Avianca Flight 52 Communication Breakdown
Watch the video on the crash of Avianca Airlines Flight 52: https://youtu.be/eLUkjXAYFKM
Review the NTSB accident: https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/accidentreports/reports/aar9104.pdf
Prepare a 3-5 page paper (APA format, double-spaced, not including cover page) analyzing the crash of Avianca Flight 52. You will evaluate the performance of the crew (and other teammates such as ATC, dispatch, etc.) with respect to this module’s lesson on communication. You are encouraged to discuss other areas of CRM as well but must at least focus on communication. Highlight any positive characteristics as well as areas for improvement. In your analysis, include a discussion of the principles of 6th Generation CRM/Threat and Error Management. DO NOT just summarize the events; your paper should include a critical analysis! Your paper will automatically be evaluated through Turnitin.
Tips* Always refer to the Threat and Error Management: https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/maintenance_hf/losa/training/media/full_awareness_2_2012-cami_v3.pdf
2. ATC communication
For this assignment, you will assess actual aircrew-ATC communication. As we have seen, “the Communications Loop is a critical part of every single flight. It is virtually impossible to engage in any flight activity, from general aviation to military tactical flying, without the use of some degree of communication”. You will listen to a busy airport’s air traffic control for approximately 30 minutes.
New York Kennedy (JFK) Tower:
Los Angeles Approach (SoCal):
https://www.liveatc.net/hlisten.php?mount=klax4&icao=klax. You will make observations, ask questions and address the following in your assignment submission:
1. Despite how critical communication is, research has shown that pilots and controllers make MANY communication errors. Why is this?
2. Relate what you hear in class today to this week’s case study on Avianca 52 – imagining yourself as a non-native English speaker, trying to fly an approach in bad weather while communicating with ATC in this environment.
3. You can evaluate the communications you hear with respect to the lessons learned in the module and your own personal experiences.
4. Evaluate the communications you hear in class today and provide one or more solutions to achieve more effective communication.
Previous student’s example on ATC communication (Do Not Copy!)
Based on an analysis of 386 reports submitted to the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), communication errors were classified into three types amongst pilot’s and air traffic controllers.
* Readback/Hearback- Accounted for 47% of errors in analysis (DITC, n.d.). Pilot reads back clearance incorrectly and controller fails to correct it.
* No pilot readback- 25% contributed to lack of pilot readback.
* Hearback Errors Type II- In 18% of reports, controller fails to notice their error in pilot’s correct readback or correct critical information in a pilot’s intended statement.
The most consistent factors were similar call signs on the same frequency, pilot expectations, and higher controller workload (DITC, n.d.). All other errors such pilot misunderstanding a clearance, accounted for the remaining 10%.
Flight Avianca is a prime example of how language and cultural barriers play a role in effective communication. On July 18, 1989, Flight Avianca 52 experienced a fatal crash due to failures in communication. Multiple failures included lack of reporting an emergency fuel situation, failure to use airline operational dispatch system, lack of terminology for minimum/emergency fuel states, and inadequate traffic flow management by the FAA. After listening to the live ATC radio channels in class, it can be difficult for anyone to understand what is being reported, regardless of a language or cultural barrier. In the Avianca 52 situation, everyone involved failed to properly perform their role at some point, while dealing with an english barrier. Having things already in place such as standardized terminology, emergency procedures, and traffic flow management might have made Avianca 52 a successful flight.
There are multiple solutions to developing better communication. One of the most efficient solutions is to review policies, procedures, and training to ensure emphasis between pilots and controllers. Especially situations that differ from those agreed upon in the dispatch release. Other solutions include clarity with cockpit conversations and reports. When working as a team, everyone must have the same forms of communication. Different terminology amongst different airlines can raise this issue. Lastly, when communicating it is important to exhaust all resources. The most common form of communication might not always be the most efficient or available one.
Though so many technological advancements have been made in aviation, and specifically within aviation communications, many errors are still made during communications between pilots and Air Traffic Control (ATC). One reason is simply that crowded airspace, like the airspace in the northeast United States around New York City, leads to crowded airwaves when so many different pilots and ATC controllers are trying to communicate. If controllers cannot keep up, they may ask all aircraft under their control to standby so they regroup. This is important because even one wrong move by an aircraft approaching a particularly crowded airport could cause all operations at the airport to come to a standstill (ASCI 516 Class Discussion, 2022).
ATC uses English as the standard language for communication, but even in English speaking countries, communications can be difficult due to the accents of pilots from different regions or from non-English speaking countries. Controllers in New York must interface with pilots from all over the world (LiveATC, 2022). Because communicating in such a crowded environment could feel overwhelming, pilots may feel hesitant to ask ATC for clarification about their directions because they do not want to slow down the controller’s cadence. This could happen with non-native English speaking pilots and native English speaking ATC, or vice versa. Though asking for clarification may slow things down temporarily, this is a far better outcome than letting simple misunderstandings lead to a mishap.
While watching FlightRadar24 while the ATC audio was playing, it was striking how much information is available about each aircraft over Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B). The ICAO identifier, position, altitude, heading, and many other attributes are all available to be quickly glanced at by ATC or anyone using modern flight tracking apps (FlightRadar24, 2022). With my own experience trying to design Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) with equipage that would allow civil airspace integrations, this made it apparent that airspace integration avionics, like transponders capable of ADS-B, should be prioritized. Relying on traditional voice communications to relay all the information that ADS-B can transfer is not practical.
Making ATC communication more effective could include expanding systems that transfer data, e.g. ADS-B and Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC), to relieve the congested audio airwaves that are filled with voice communications. CPDLC usage could be expanded to include even more types of data than it does now. Also, most military platforms do not use CPDLC (ASCI 516 Class Discussion, 2022); perhaps CPDLC could be integrated into military platforms to aid their interactions with civilian controllers and also give the controllers a common baseline for how they communicate with all the aircraft under their purview. Also, military pilots who transition to civilian flying for airlines or cargo companies would already be familiar with using CPDLC.
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