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Nathan3219

How to hear ATC and radio "faster"?

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You're probably reading my title and wondering what in the world I'm talking about, so bear with me and let me explain.

After years of flying FSX, DCS, and X-Plane I did my first two VATSIM flights ever today in the CRJ-700 and it was AWESOME (and terrifying!) Now, let me explain.

Just a little background, I grew up in Texas and live in rural upstate New York so talking slow with a little drawl is something I'm very used to. And I realized today that I have a hard time understanding ATC and other aircraft just because of how fast they speak! It's like a whole new language to me, I know that in aviation they speak quickly and it's necessary but any advice for how us slow speaking country folk can learn how to better understand ATC?! I hate saying "say again" because I just know that the controller is rolling his eyes at my slow speaking, slow hearing self!

Let me hear some of your experiences and maybe how some of ya'll got to better understand the controllers and the fast talk, before I embarrass myself more with the "say agains!"

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2 hours ago, Nathan3219 said:

I know that in aviation they speak quickly and it's necessary but any advice for how us slow speaking country folk can learn how to better understand ATC?! I hate saying "say again" because I just know that the controller is rolling his eyes at my slow speaking, slow hearing self!

Let me hear some of your experiences and maybe how some of ya'll got to better understand the controllers and the fast talk, before I embarrass myself more with the "say agains!"

Whilst it is undeniably true that some controllers and pilots do regard being able to rattle off instructions like a machine gun as some kind of ridiculous badge of professionalism, nothing could be further from the truth. What they are forgetting, is that there is nothing in any ATC rulebook anywhere which states this is what you must do, in fact if anything, any guidelines on this will state  this is exactly what you must not do if it will prevent you from being understood or make it unnecessarily difficult to be clearly understood. Yes, the general rule for radio communications is brevity, but that should always be coupled with the aim of clarity, and if you have to transmit 'say again' a lot, then it is indicative that it is not you at fault, it is the person who was not making themselves clear.

I can assure you that at where I work (Manchester International EGCC), we do not rattle off instructions over the radio to the airline pilots we communicate with at 100 miles per hour in an attempt to 'sound professional', because we are aware that whilst English is the language of communication for us and them, it isn't every pilot's first language, so trying to shave two seconds off a message at the risk of something being misunderstood, is a recipe for accidents. So yeah, when we chat to pilots on the radios, we are brief and professional and do use standard phraseology, but above all we are clear in what we are saying and hearing, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying 'say again' if you didn't hear and understand something. In fact, even when not on the radio and talking to work colleagues, I am in the habit of 'reading back to them' anything they request, since it sticks it in my head and makes sure they know I heard them correctly, as it is often a noisy environment we work in when around aircraft with APUs running or noisy avionics cooling vents blowing out air.

Here's a little tale for you which happened a couple of weeks ago at EGCC, which should demonstrate to you that mistakes can happen, especially when rushing, even when people are not talking at 100 miles per hour, but so long as you do stuff safely, it is not a big deal...

We were getting ready to push out a Thomas Cook A321 off stand 25 at EGCC and there was a bit of a delay in getting the air bridge off. We had done the walkaround check etc, and told the crew of the aeroplane that we were standing by for their clearance to push, so we were waiting at the tug and just chatting whilst monitoring the radio in the tug and waiting for the bridge to come off, at which point we'd remove the chocks and push out.

Now, one of the things we must do when pushing out, is check a book in the tug which shows where we push to from off that stand; this is because there are specific tug release points (TRPs) we push to and stop at before we disconnect the towbar and give the crews the wave off, and these change all the time, especially at EGCC because it is undergoing a lot of resurfacing work, so the taxiway availability changes fairly regularly. Having checked where we are supposed to push to, we also monitor the radio because sometimes there is a 'non standard push', where the airliner will not be pushed to the standard TRP, but somewhere else instead. Typically this will be if a section of taxiway is closed and so an airliner might have to be pushed and turned in a direction other than the standard one. Now if this is to happen, the tower will usually say 'cleared to push, non standard', and the crew should also communicate this intention to us on the ground too, so in fact we get at least two chances to hear this will be the case when we are monitoring the radio and the headset.

On this occasion, neither the tower nor the crew said this (the crew were probably distracted by the delay and the tower were probably just keen to get them off stand since this was in the middle of all that hassle in the UK with drones shutting down airports and loads of flights being diverted to Manchester, thus it was mad busy and so them forgetting this is kind of understandable), and so since we had not been informed otherwise, we pushed out and turned to the standard TRP. It was only at that point that the crew said they wanted to be facing the other way. Now this wasn't really a big deal since they had not started the engines, so we just pulled them back onto the stand and then immediately pushed them back out and turned them the other way, and it took less than a minute to do that, so it was no big deal, but it just goes to show you that even people in the tower and on the flight deck can forget stuff sometimes. So don't fret about making a mistake, as long as it isn't a stupid or dangerous one and you make sure you are understood and understand what you are supposed to do, then nobody will be mad at you, we are all human and everyone can make a mistake, and anyone who isn't an @sshole, either on the flight deck or in the tower, will know that, because they were not born knowing all that stuff either, they had to learn it too.

Just have fun and don't be afraid to say that you are unfamiliar with a procedure or new to this stuff, or ask people to slow down when talking. Far from being thought of as unprofessional, making sure you are safe and clear on things is the professional thing to do, so any controller worth his or her salt will appreciate you advising them of that requirement of them.

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Alan Bradbury

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The first thing to say is don't be embarrassed by "say again"! There is no shame whatsoever in it. I've been doing this VATSIM thing for close to 20 years and I still miss things when controllers gabble out instructions at a million miles an hour. Some would do well to remember the adage "a stitch in time saves nine" -- rather than  treating it like a race to say things as fast as humanly possible and then having to repeat the message three times, if they just spoke at a slower pace (ICAO suggests 100 words per minute, which is notably slow) people would understand them better and they wouldn't have to waste so much time repeating things!

All controllers would far rather you said "say again" than guess at what they said and get it wrong!

That said, as you get more experienced you will get the "flow" of what you are expecting to hear much better and therefore will get much more proficient at listening for and picking out the key parts of each transmission.

Have a pen and paper at hand ready to jot down clearances so you're not entirely reliant on trying to concentrate on committing a huge long string of instructions to memory.

All of that, plus your post, reminds me of the story about a USAir jet at JFK, where the controllers are famously rapid, some years ago -- following a long stream of taxi instructions delivered at several hundred miles an hour, there's a short pause before a slow Texan drawl comes over the radio.

"Ground... ah, Cactus twelve seventeen... could y'all just say that one more time please sir? Ah've only just picked up mah pencil..."

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Simon Kelsey

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You could listen to ATC recordings at "Pilot Edge"  go to the web site, click on listen to recordings.

https://www.pilotedge.net/

 

Pilot Edge is a subscription based realistic ATC set-up that works with FSX, P3, and Xplane, but it's free to listen to the recordings. The controllers are mostly real life current or retired controllers, with the emphasis on doing it "By the book", so you'll be hearing it as it should be, at least from the ATC perspective. It only covers a couple of areas in the Western USA, but enough to listen to all the normal scenarios, VFR, or IFR.

Eugene 

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Interesting topic.  While my comment is a little OT, I've always felt the same way (at least before computers) about doctors' written prescriptions.  One would think that these should be very clear, but most of the time they were famously illegible.  And as Chock said, I figured it must be some kind of badge of "something".

Jeff Smith


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I'll give them a "say again" until they reach the end of their rope and type out the instruction 😏.  They always seem patient with me though.

Sometimes it's not just fast talking, but accents and poor audio that make it difficult.

Pilotedge has extremely clear audio but even with it, a "say again" is sometimes necessary there too.  The bar is a little higher for Pilotedge, yet they will work with you, even to the point of pulling you off to the side for a short learning session.

Just get on and have fun.


Robert Yunque

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The one tip I would give on VATSIM is to,listen ahead. What I mean is listen to the instructions given to other pilots, so many times you will get the same thing or close to it and it makes it easier to,pick out the different details of your specific instruction. 

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Mark W   CYYZ      

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53 minutes ago, MarkW said:

The one tip I would give on VATSIM is to,listen ahead. What I mean is listen to the instructions given to other pilots, so many times you will get the same thing or close to it and it makes it easier to,pick out the different details of your specific instruction. 

This is true.  I believe one reason the ATC talks so fast is that they are giving the same instruction over and over again, so they just say it fast.  If you miss it, then it's your place to have the stop and say it again. You're doing what you're supposed to do.


Robert Yunque

PilotEdge Ratings =   CAT-11 (2016-09-13)  I-11 (2016-10-23)  V-3 (2016-08-01)

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ATC gives instructions using certain phrases and in a specific order.  Those phrases can be found in this ICAO booklet.  ATC also expects to hear a response from me as a pilot in a certain order.  It is necessary for ATC to have an English proficiency endorsement on their license.  As a pilot I must also have that English proficiency endorsement on my license.  When calling for a departure clearance have your flight plan in front of you, when calling for taxi have the airport diagram in front of you, etc.  

I suspect what you would consider fast from ATC would most likely be normal for me, but then again I've been doing it for a while and have learned to anticipate to a certain extent. 🤣

Grace and Peace, 


Beta Tester XM-26 Tow

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What strikes me in this thread is that all, or almost all, of its participants are native English speakers.
Yet you admit having problems with understanding ATC in English.
Now imagine what we, non-natives (most of the world), are exposed to.

A happy new flightsim year to everyone, by the way! 😀


Rafal Haczek

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Well, welcome to ATC communication. We all was at that phase at some point because humans are just used to normal human speaking pace. When you first start flying in the real world, it's an eye opening experience. This gets worse as you get into busy airspace like the North East coast in the USA. I've been operating from that area for over 20 years. You also notice the difference going from coast to coast. In the the Midwest, it's a different flow than compared to the NE. My first tip is to learn your own level of short hand and write things things down. To go along with that, learn expectations. These two will make life easier for you. So I'm getting clearance and they say "cleared the sigma six departure, Baltimore transition, direct to Nottingham, J61 to Hubbs, J193 to Harcum, then as filed. Climb and maintain 7 thousand, expect higher with departure, departure frequency 121.65, squawk 3157". On my pad you will see, Sigma 6 to BAL, OTT, J61 Hubbs, J193 HCM, as filed, 7 thousand, 121.65 and 3157. So short hand and expectations of what he's going to say and familiarity with the flight plan area goes a long way. In this example, I'm hearing everything ATC says, but only writing down key things. This will assist in accuracy of my read back. Everything he says is standard which comes with expectations. Worst thing you can do is not write down what's being said. Over time you will get very efficient at this. Occasionally, I get the "sigma3287, I have an amendment to your clearance, advise when ready to copy". This means to me, go to the flightplan page of the FMS, have the chart ready and have my pen/pad.  When dealing with frequency changes, I don't write down everything. Early on, I would write down the facility"s name, but quickly you will just focus on the numbers. If they say "Sigma3287 contact Houston on twenty one sixty five", I type 2165 in the scratch pad of my FMS. Read it back and then drop 2165 on top of of the radio frequency in the FMS. it pushes the old freq to standby and tunes what I drop in from the scratch pad.

My last tip is the read back. I teach new guys to write things down like I explained above. Read over what you wrote to formulate the read back. I then tell them to say it in their head three times straight, and then press the mic and say it a fourth time. This makes you sound smooth without any stutters or stammering like you would as your mind thinks as your mouth speaks.

The reason ATC gets fast is because ATC is dealing with a lot of airplanes in a small environment. It's about brevity and accuracy. I've flown in places where ATC will give you a verbal lashing if you are not responsive and places like Chicago and Frankfurt will put you in the penalty box if you are dragging or use the phrase "say again" more than once. They will make you pull off during taxi or send you to holding until they can get back to you. NewYork is well known for giving you verbal slaps. It's common to hear "American2127!, American2127! I need you to LISTEN UP!, contact Boston on thirty five two!". I honestly find it entertaining, those guys don't play. 

You will definitely have to work on expectations. When I'm flying overseas through out the world, there are places that are difficult to understand due to the accent. I survive this through expectations and my flight plan. When near a boundary and they say something with a freq, I assume it's a freq change and read it back as a freq change. I have been in places in Asia or the Mideast where I actually had no clue what was being said. In those cases, I read back expectations with my flight plan. I read back, cleared direct Sotto sigma 217. They will reply if it's wrong or just clear  what I replied. In that case, I expect to at least hear some form of Sotto when they call me again. I stick to my flightplan firmly because that's what my overflight clearance is based on. If not careful, you can end up in airspace you don't have overflight clearances for when taking random vectors outside of expectations. This has happen to me a few times when I checked the chart and notice they are trying to vector me into uncleared airspace. Either way, this will help you out. 

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2 hours ago, G550flyer said:

This gets worse as you get into busy airspace like the North East coast in the USA.

I always thought KORD had the best controllers and ran the hardest especially if the weather was down.  I was going into KORD before digitized radar.  I only went into KJFK in the NE and it was always OK, just those New York folks. 🙂

MMMX for me could be the most complex with the weather and the terrain especially in the B707/DC10 days before terrain radar.  🙂

I always thought the controllers in VHHH were very good, excellent English and excellent ATC skills.  In Europe I always liked LSZH Radar. 

Grace and Peace, 


Beta Tester XM-26 Tow

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58 minutes ago, Bluestar said:

I always thought KORD had the best controllers and ran the hardest especially if the weather was down.  I was going into KORD before digitized radar.  I only went into KJFK in the NE and it was always OK, just those New York folks.

Both places are pretty good, they run like clock work due to the amount of traffic they handle. You have to be in sync, attentive, responsive and know where you are at all times. I've seen a couple of non airline guys get put in the penalty box for not being responsive and not familiar with the airport layout for taxi instructions. I spent alot of time flying out of DC and NJ going into KLGA and KTEB. As you know, the traffic gets so thick in those areas that you have to fight to get a check in or respond. Peeps will step all over on the radios too. Rush hour in the mornings and and evenings is where it gets fast due to all the arrivals. Those controllers fire off instructions quickly and it flows during those times. Bad weather is best, they have to space you out. On VFR days, everyone is jammed into the expressway visual and its a symphony. Now days with better radars, they cram more metal into airspace. In the evenings, I usually get caught with ground stop for an hour due to traffic flow into that area.

Id say the worst I've had in terms of not understanding the transmission is Tokyo radio over the Pacific, Korea and Egypt. I spent 35 minutes trying to step climb because Tokyo radio couldn't fully understand me and I could understand them enough to know they kept giving me the wrong altitude. Two other jets tried to relay to Tokyo because they were feeling my pain, but they had the same results. A combination of Staticy HFs and long range made it worse. It was just painful at this Po hang Korean airport. To this day, i'm still not sure if I was cleared to land. They had to send a follow me because I refused to move after turn off because I had no clue what they were saying. For a while in parts of Egypt, it was like those guys/gals were talking into a tin can with a string. You had to work the squelch to hear and filter through the accent. The only time I've felt pressure and felt behind was my first flight into Frankfurt. 180 to the marker in a jet that won't slow down especially when you go down. I made it in and can honestly say I've never been given Frankfurt's infamous "Proceed to Rüdesheim and hold, state fuel status and don't lie!" I've never been fined for noise there either. 😄

Here's a good video for the original poster to listen to. Keep in mind, these guys are on the ground. In the air, its more fast paced because you can't just stop moving or pull to side like you can on the ground lol.

   

 

 

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During my final flying days I replied 'say again' for almost every transmission.  My hearing loss was getting worse and that contributed to the lack of understanding the instruction the first time around.  That was almost 20 years ago.  I doubt I could hack it today.

Jeff, I agree about doctor's prescriptions.  But I don't have to read them.  I just pray the pharmacist can.

Noel 


A cranky old curmudgeon trying to cope in the wake turbulence of a century rapidly leaving me behind.

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