How Coast Instructors Make Students Comfortable With Radio Communication

How Coast Instructors Make Students Comfortable With Radio Communication

Will Dryden is the President and founder of Coast Flight Training. He is a career instructor with both Master Flight Instructor and Gold Seal Certified Flight Instructor designations. Will founded Coast with the focus of breaking aviation flight training paradigms (www.iflycoast.com).

The perfect way to reduce students’ anxiety about radio communication is to start by explaining to them that the air traffic controller they’re talking to is most likely wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, and sipping a cup of Joe. He or she is nothing to be afraid of. The job of the ATC is to keep the pilots safe and help them when they have questions.

A common mistake instructors make is telling students that ATC radio calls have to be perfect and in a particular order. Instead, the instructors should encourage students and be positive. And while instructors should initially avoid fixing their students’ communication mistakes, it’s important that the students can rest assured that the instructor is there to back them up and can finish the call for them, in case they are having trouble.

Here are some simple steps to improve students’ radio calls:

  • Let the student talk on discreet pilot-to-pilot frequencies, without the pressure of talking to a controller. Have the student call “in the blind” to get used to hearing his or her own voice in the headsets.
  • Use a full motion simulator with an intercom system to practice radio calls under simulated circumstances.
  • Prior to each flight, go over what needs to be said to the controllers during airport operations by role-playing until the student is comfortable with the wording.
  • Teach the student to anticipate what communication is coming and how to respond to or initiate it.
  • For some students, it helps to let them write down exactly what to say on a cheat sheet, but this technique should really only be done during their first couple of flights.

Radios are often difficult for students. Air traffic controllers talking fast can be intimidating, creating a psychological “mountain” for the student. Reminding students that they’re just talking to that guy in the Hawaiian shirt enjoying his coffee can generally ease a lot of the pressure, and by identifying themselves as “student pilot” will alert the ATC to give them the extra attention they need and deserve.