U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation

St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office

10801 Pear Tree Lane
Suite 200
St. Ann, Missouri 63074


November 2005




Thought for the month..... If we view any problem closely enough
we will recognize ourselves as part of the problem.

Communications - A Personal Responsibility... The challenge we face in trying to operate our aircraft safely is reducing the effect of errors that, as human beings, we are destined to make. Errors are going to occur and regardless of how much training we direct toward reducing them, they can never be eliminated. The key to a safe flight is to acknowledge that errors will happen, and to build-in safety nets to prevent the consequences of those errors from becoming catastrophic.

One of the factors that contributes to error control is effective communication. Most of us never received any formal training on effective communication when we learned how to fly except for radio communication. We can apply many of the same principles of radio communication to interpersonal communication. As an example, one of the things we teach pilots to do is to listen to the appropriate frequency and establish a mental picture of the activity going on around them.

The same principle applies to interpersonal communication. We have to be on the correct frequency if we're going to transmit and receive correctly. In this case, the "frequency" is a little more complex because it is not a series of numbers, but refers to our level of communication, or the more popular definition, that we are on the same sheet of music. Do we understand the facts of the conversation, or is the authority of individuals involved influencing us. We also teach pilots to use standard phraseology to ensure clear and concise communications. It is important to speak using commonly understood words whose meaning will not be mistaken.

Hear-back errors are a significant problem in radio communications. That's when we make the mistake of hearing what we expect or want to hear, rather than the actual instructions that were given. How many disagreements between couples have occurred because one or the other hasn't listened very well and only heard what they wanted to hear? That can certainly cool off a relationship but if it happens to someone responsible for operating or fixing an aircraft, it can lead to an accident. One of the ways we try to mitigate that error on the radio is to require a read-back of instructions. The same safety net can be used with interpersonal communications. "Let me be sure I understand what you just said." Verify the facts of the communication and fill-in any gaps that might exist. It's the same technique as asking ATC for clarification.

Assume as an operator that the aircraft you are going to fly has had maintenance performed on it. You see it tied down on the ramp and you seek out the mechanic who worked on it to find out if it's ready to go. "Is 1234X fixed?" "Yessir, it's all fixed." Do we have enough information to fly? As the TV ad suggests, "Inquiring minds want to know". "So, it's ready to fly?" "No. The work has been done but I need to make the appropriate entries into the maintenance record before it will be ready to fly." You now have a more complete picture of the situation. You also have an opportunity to further your knowledge of the aviation system by asking the mechanic if you can observe that process and learn what is required for a proper maintenance entry and return to service (higher-level communication).

There are several accounts of passengers on airliners seeing unsafe conditions and assertively communicating that information to the flight crew. Their actions probably saved the lives of everyone on the aircraft, but the only way it happened was because they were willing to speak and the crew was willing to listen. In our own operations, would we be as willing to listen to someone with less "authority" in our field?

People in aviation need timely and accurate information to make good decisions. We all bear a responsibility to create an environment that invites people to ask questions or express their concerns. In professional aviation this process is part of CRM, Crew Resource Management, and is included in the training all aircrews receive. We may not be involved in scheduled air transportation, but we can apply the same communication principles to our own operations. Good communications are a critical part of mitigating problems in aviation. If we view any problem closely enough we will recognize ourselves as part of the problem.

MACTS - The Midwest Aviation Conference and Trade Show (MACTS) will be held at the Busch Student Center of Saint Louis University on January 7 & 8, 2006. MACTS will incorporate two local events, the St. Louis Super Safety Seminar, and the Greater St. Louis Flight Instructors Flight Instructor Renewal Clinic (FIRC). National and regional speakers will be making presentations on wide variety of aviation topics. Vendors of aviation products and services will be present and Ms. Cathe Fish will be conducting a flying companion course for non-pilots who want to know more about what's happening in the air.

Maps and information about the presentations can be found at www.macts.org. Flight instructors who have renewal dates through the end of April can attend the presentations for the sixteen hours of required training and renew their CFI certificate maintaining the same renewal date. Any flight instructor with a current certificate and a renewal date outside that range can renew early at the Conference, but will get a new renewal date of 31 January, 2008. There is a charge for flight instructors renewing their certificates at the Conference. For additional information go to: www.gslfia.com or call (314) 286-9905.

Upcoming Events

Nov 8
Lindbergh High School
4900 S Lindbergh (Hwy 61), between I-270 & I-55
Time: 7-9PM.

Register at http//faasafety.gov for E-mail notification of safety seminars in the St. Louis District.

Let's Not Meet By Accident
Fred Harms
Operations Safety Program Manager
800-322-8876 ext 4835