As anybody who reads fortune cookies on a regular basis already knows, 2009 is the Year of the Ox on the Chinese calendar. And air show professionals are discovering that 2009 is also the Year of Faulty Radio Communications.
In every close call reported to ICAS so far this year, radio communications have played a pivotal or contributory role. Fortunately, none of these incidents have resulted in an accident or serious incident. But our collective experience as an industry so far this year points to the need for more discussion on safe and effective radio communications in the air show environment.
The first and best place to clarify radio communications issues and potential conflicts is in the pre-show safety briefing. Often, discussion on radio communications during the briefing is limited to a listing of frequencies to be used during the show. But the briefing should also include discussion on what type of communications should and should not take place on those frequencies. Air show performers often point out that air show frequencies are cluttered with non-essential radio communications or discussions that should be conducted on a different frequency. If discreet frequencies are available to performers, they should be identified and everybody involved should agree on when and how they are used. Alternate frequencies, stuck-microphone procedures and contingency plans for loss of radio communications should also be discussed during the briefing. At the conclusion of the briefing, everybody involved in air operations should have a clear and comprehensive understanding of how radios will be used throughout the air show.
When air operations don’t go according to plan, clear agreement on radio communications procedures becomes even more important. The air boss and a performer must always be on the same frequency during that performer’s sequence so that the two can communicate quickly in the event of a problem. There’s no time to settle radio communications protocol issues when trouble pops up. And that’s why it’s vitally important to walk away from the morning briefing with clear and unambiguous agreement how radio communications will be handled.
Finally: don’t be afraid to use your radio. There can sometimes be a fine line between distracting chit chat and vital communications, but pilots, air bosses and everybody else involved in air show safety should always err on the side of too much information when it comes to safety.