Sunday, July 20, 2008

Very few words

Efficient communication is a worthy goal. After composing a blog post, I go through and slaughter every word that isn't pulling its weight. I know readers have zero patience for fluff.

Aviation radio communications are remarkably efficient, but for a different reason. Since every aircraft near a given airport is communicating on the same radio frequency, and consequently only one person can be heard at a time, keeping it short and sweet is imperative.

Imagine you're in a room full of twenty blindfolded people, all actively walking around, and you're the only one who can see. Now imagine that you have to guide all those people out the door using only verbal instructions. Oh, and if anyone bumps into anyone else, they die.

If you say some instructions, how can the people be sure who they're for? How do you tell a person where to walk, when to turn, and by how much? What if several people all need help at the same time? The only solution is a system of very clear, very specific, and very rapid communication.

Here's the first radio call I learned and its translation:

"Kona Tower, Helicopter Five Zulu Kilo on south ramp requesting to enter left close traffic to taxiway Alpha with information Foxtrot."

"Hello Kona Airport air traffic control, I am flying the helicopter with tail number '5ZK' that is hovering in the southern staging area. I'd like permission to enter the standard air traffic pattern that circles to the left of the main runway, returning back to taxiway 'A.' I have already listened to the latest recorded weather and airport update, so you can assume I know that information."

Love it.

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