Did You Hear: ATC Readback/Hearback Errors

  • Nov 17, 2014 7:43am GMT

The primary connection between a pilot and an air traffic controller is the radio. After a clearance is given it is understood that the pilot will immediately read it back so the controller knows it was properly understood. But successful radio communication is a two-way street requiring both sides to check each other.

Pilots and controllers are human, so it is possible that either side of the radio can hear or understand things wrong. They can also simply say things wrong without realizing it. But what happens if the pilots reads it back incorrectly and the controller doesn't catch it? What if the controller gives an incorrect clearance and the pilot complies without question? Who is at fault?

Attached below are a few short examples of readback/hearback errors that were caught by either the pilot or the controller. See if you can indentify where the communication breakdown occurred, and what would have happened if the mistake wasn't corrected.

The third video is a longer educational film hosted by Dick Rutan discussing the importance of good listening skills. If you have a little more time I highly recommend you check this video out.

Every now and then I'll have a pilot ask to clarify a clearance just to make sure they heard it right. More often then not they got it right the first time, but I always thank them for checking. Asking protects us both and can potentially prevent something really bad from happening.

Being attentive on the radio is an integral part of maintaining good situational awareness. Read my report on the importance of situational awareness here.