The Importance of Aviation Communication
We all know the frustration of a failure to communicate. It’s tough for both sides. Communication can be challenging even when you are speaking the same language to someone standing in front of you. The aviation environment adds the complexities of technical jargon, congested frequencies, and occasional static, just to name a few. Human ego is yet another complicating factor. Nobody wants to sound uninformed on the party-line radio frequency, so the temptation to pretend complete understanding can be powerful. Put it all together, and it’s easy to see how the operating environment for aviation is prime ground for the situation described in the George Bernard Shaw quote.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
— George Bernard Shaw
It’s also easy to see how dangerous that illusion can be. If you are engaged in a face-to-face conversation when both sender and receiver are on terra firma, misunderstandings can be annoying but rarely (if ever) life-threatening. Not so in aviation. Accident history is full of incidents in which the illusion of successful communication led to tragedy. It happens to aviation professionals and so, regardless of training and experience levels, it seems that no one is immune.
Clarity is critical. Never, ever pretend that you understand a transmission, or make assumptions about what the sender “must have” been trying to say. If you don’t understand something, ask the sender to “say again.” There is no shame in seeking complete clarity in communications; your fellow aviators will be glad you did — and so will you.