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Essay: The role of communication in aviation

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  • The role of communication in aviation
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Communication is an integral component in any organisational activity and yields success in any endeavours, including the aviation industry. (Reference) It provides a pathway for successful operations and acts as a prerequisite to safety. However, communication has long been proven to be a critical concern in the aviation industry and has resulted in many catastrophic incidents, which has shaped the rules and regulations that determine how we fly today. This essay will be based on examinations of two case studies from past incidents: The 1990, Avianca flight -52 disaster involving Boeing 707 aircraft; 1977, Tenerife disaster of involving a KLM Boeing 747 and Pan American Boeing 747 aircrafts. These incidents demonstrate and emphasise the importance of communication in aviation and how misinterpretations have resulted in calamitous outcomes. An analysis of errors due to human factors will be discussed and how the actions made by those involved influenced the outcomes of such disasters. In conjunctions, with supporting articles and aircraft incident reports will be utilised to enable the reader to understand the devastating influenced that communication errors have had on the industry and various concepts of communication will be assessed, and recommendations for future will be provided for successful operations of air transportation.

The nature of communication is defined as the act of exchanging or delivering information’s (Reference) In the diverse aviation sector, the concept of communication branches out to a broad spectrum, but is generalised to verbal and non-verbal Interactions. Examples of such activates are frequently perceived in everyday aviation environment. Interactions between Aircrew, passengers and other operational organisations draw a fine model of verbal communication, but Significantly, In-cockpit interactions between the pilots and air traffic controllers demonstrate a core need for communication in aviation. It is primarily delivered through the means of radio transmissions. Verbal communication is regarded as an enormous part of aircraft operations, therefore the quality and delivery of verbal gestures must be efficient and effective, as it is prone to a direct effect to safety. Non-verbal communications extend towards the form of written aids such as checklists and flight operational manuals. Visual communication…Nevertheless, each form of delivery method presents its own benefits, limitations and capabilities, however Reports from ICAO propose that majority of aviation related disasters have been escalated from major contributing factors of verbal communication via radio interactions between Air traffic control and pilots
(Reference). Evidence of this statement can be correlated from the two case studies that will be discussed and comparatively analysed.

Case Study 1

The role of communication in aviation is significant and can be emphasised from the 1990 incident of Avianca flight -52 disaster involving a Boeing 707 aircraft. On January 25th of 1990, Avianca flight 052 En-route from Bogota, Columbia to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in Newyork, crash landed 24km from the airport due to starvation of fuel. The flight was conducting a normal charter operation and upon arrival of JKF airspace the conditions of climate were degrading as time went by, therefore as procedural orders, the aircraft was required to enter three different holding pattern for a duration of 77 minutes to create separation between other traffics. However, upon the third holding point the crew informed Air Traffic Control they will not be able to hold for no more that 5 minutes and will not have sufficient fuel to land at the alternate airport in Boston. Therefore, Avianca 052 continued its flight towards JFK, however upon an Instrument landing system (ILS) descend, the crew could not maintain a stabilised approach or profile due to the strong wind shear. Visibility was a great concern too and as a result, a go ground was required. Upon second attempt on approach about 32km from the airport, flight 052 crew had realised that they were closer to the end of their reserve fuels, immediately a radio call was made to Air traffic Controllers advised that “ We’re running out of fuel, sir”, however tower requested in reply to climb. Momentary after the radio call, all four engines flamed out and electrical power was lost and the aircraft descended down rapidly into the vicinity of a small wealthy village, 24km from the Airfield and crashed, with no fire. 73 passengers and crew died with 85 injured. (Reference)
Case study 2
“The worst Aviation Disaster” The Tenerife tragedy, of 1977 involving two 747 jumbo aircrafts is a fine example in elaborating how misinterpretation in communication resulted to such catastrophic Outcomes. On March 27th of 1977 during a standard charter operation, the Aircrafts of Pan American Boeing 747 and a KLM Boeing 747 En-route to Las Palmas were requested to divert by Air traffic control towards Tenerife Airport. Due to a temporary closure from an unexpected bomb threat. Tenerife airfield being small had considerable challenges in accommodating the surge of in arrivals and departures as the airfield had only one runway and one main taxi way, hence congestion was presented as primary problem. Movement of aircrafts within the airfield was a great challenge due to the confided movement areas, therefore the runway had to be used to transfer aircrafts to taxi ways. Little understanding and gradual build-up of small challenges, the Air traffic controllers were positioned under immense pressure to deliver. Fast-forward to the events of incident. Since, The KLM aircraft arrived ahead of PamAm, The captain of KLM decided to save time and refuel to avoid anymore further delays when airport reopens. Within hours’ information of reopening of Las Palmas were broadcasted and all aircrafts were advised to prepare back for operations. KLM aircraft having pre-flight and refuelling completed, were granted Priority clearance to procced for take-off first, with Instructional aids of taxi conversed towards the pilot by tower, with the following instructions: “taxi towards the end of the runway threshold and complete a 180 degree turn to position ready for take-off” . The tower requested for an acknowledgement for the clearance, however no response provided. Unexpectedly a sudden change in weather brought the clouds to low-level and thick fog was evident, causing the reduction in visibility. In the meantime, Pan American flight were given instructions to taxi via same runway and exit at number three taxi way. Slowly abiding orders, the captain beings to roll forwards. Momentarily, The tower provides the KLM aircraft’s with specified departure route and instructions after take-off via radio call. The KLM aircraft’s co-pilot responds with “ we are now at take-off” to which the Air traffic Control tower responds with “OK”. Therefore, KLM assumed clearance was approved and began to roll towards the runway tarmac. In fact the tower presumed, The KLM aircraft was at take-off position and was awaiting final clearance. The tower declared another radio call to KLM “stand by for take-off, I will call you” however this message was not heard by KLM pilots due to malfunction and interference in radio signals. Within blink of eye, the co-pilot of Pan American flight gazing out through windows shielded by the misty fog, sees rays of light getting closer and closer, suddenly realizing its another aircraft, with immanent fear shouts to the captain to “Get-off, Get-off”. Unfortunately, the Pan American flight tried to veer off the runway. Abruptly, everything ended in seconds. (Reference)

Comparative Analysis 
Comparative analysis will provide evaluative links between each incidences, and will be used to discuss the need for communication in aviation and how misinterpretations have led to devastations. Case study 1 is directed and depicts the importance of communication in aviation through the incidence of Avianca flight 052. The emphasis on portraying the criticality of a situation is unbearably crucial. When the flight 052 was conducting its procedural orders of holding point after being advised by Air Traffic Control. A holding point, defined by the International Virtual Aviation Organisation (IVAI) is a manoeuvre conducted by aircrafts to create separation and reduce traffic, it must be a premediated request from Air traffic control. (IVAO HQ training department 2015, p. 1) In the case of Avianca flight 052 it was forced to conduct three holding point patterns due to the weather. However, it was at full consideration that pilots in command were subject to monitor their times and fuel plan. Yet in regards to the first communication between ATC and Pilots of Flight 052, the pilots initially subjected with a statement saying, they will not make it to their alternate route and can only hold for 5 mins in duration in the holding pattern. – However, if the pilots of flight were in-depth in conveying, for example; how much fuel the flight had and how much range they will get. The Air Traffic Control would have had some understanding on the importance. Nonetheless, As the flight continued towards approach, visual communication remained a distressing factor as low cloud base with heavy rain and night skies, the pilots were reliant up on verbal communication via radio transmissions. During the initial missed approach, the pilots communicated proficiently by advising tower; “Avianca 052 going around, missed approach”, However the events which unravelled after going around procedures is what led towards the down fall of Avianca 052. When the flight was going around and about 32km from the airport the co-pilot transmitted a radio call advising “ we’re running out of fuel”. This statement portrayed no sense of situational emphasis and no acknowledgement of distress was interpreted by Air Traffic Controls. If the word “EMERGENCY” was used in the situation. Both communicative parties would have had similar understanding of sense of urgency to the situation. Upon analysis of the recorded cockpit data by Helmreich (1994, p.275) concluded his findings with the comment “The total communication within the cockpit was very low”. This comment can be a supporting evidence to link to the Swiss model. As interactions between the crew were minimal, in particularly the captain. Organisational influence can be considered the triggering cause of the tragedy. Due to a lack of Proactive influence by the captain, failure to maintain efficiency of flight and ability converse can be the possible contingencies that signifies “ a Lack of leadership”. Similarly, misunderstanding of phraseology is evident in the Tenerife Tragedy too. In case study 2, misinterpretation of communication is evident during KLM aircraft crew were ready upon take-off, and advised tower “we are now at take-off”, however the Air traffic controllers misinterpreted the message and presumed the crew are at take-off and are waiting for clearance, hence tower replied with “OK”. Therefore, with assumption of hearing “Ok” the crew began to increase power and roll on. However, in refers to AIP ENR 1.1 para 5.4 (ATC AU-702 para 1.4.4) “The Pilot in command of an aircraft, he/she must not commence a take-off unless you have received and acknowledge a specific clearance to do so”. This is a clear evidence of how miscommunication proved to be a pivotal factor. Nonetheless, In both scenarios degrading weather conditions can be considered as an enhancing factor which led onto Threat and Error management. It was an unexpected, external and environmental Threat (TEM). Additionally, The TEM can be considered a link to Communication. As all visual communication outside were restricted due to the bad weather, the pilots in command had to fully rely upon verbal communication via radio and use diagrams and charts. In the event of Tenerife, The pan American airlines crew were heavily reliant upon the use of Non-verbal method of communication using charts and diagram of the Airfield to navigate. In core relations of human factors, Stress and fatigue are a major contributing factors drawn from the incident reports, as effective communication was degraded due to the metal stability of pilots of both crew.

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