Communication in Aviation (5 types of communication)

Verbal Communication

(Picture embedded from Freedom Scientific on 10 September 2009)

Speech or verbal communication is the most common communication medium, because it is the easiest to perform, people use it both on and off job. Verbal communication is a big part of the aircraft operations, it happens everywhere from cabin crews greet passengers to be onboard to pilots communicate with ATC, and between ground departments etc. The quality of verbal communication has a direct effect to the safety and efficiency of flight operations, therefore ICAO has developed The ICAO alphabet to regulate the language being used to communicate, these standard alphabetical words have been advised to increase intelligibility, especailly when communication conditions are poor. They also reduce the risk of misunderstanding at other times. These words can help the interpretation of complicated multi-lingual problems. (Orlady, 19991)

Speech is formed by the conventional four primary characteristics, they shape the meaning and emotions of the information being communicated, these are intensity (decibles), frequency (Hertz), harmonic composition or quality, and the time or the speed with which words are spoken:

  1. Intensity: intensity measures in decibels and results in the sensation of loudness. Sounds generally become annoying at about 80 to 90 dBs and can become damaging at 85 to 90.
  2. Frequency: frequency is measured in Hertz and gives rise to the sensation of pitch. Voice frequencies range from 1000 to 9000 Hz, continued exposure to loud noises can cause hearing loss. Pilots who have spend many years in noisy cockpits develop a characteristic hearing loss of higher frequencies because of long exposure to the noisy environment.
  3. Harmonic Composition: this often means the quality. A change in the harmonic compostion of speech can change the expression or meaning of a phrase, this quality is important in aviation. The harmonic composition of speech either from the crew or from ATC can convey urgency as well as just conveying a routine communication.
  4. Time: time is related to the rate at which the words are spoken, the length of the pauses, and the time spent on different sounds, this characteristic is particularly important in ATC communications. (Orlady, 19991)

Non-verbal communication

(Picture embeded from Acesta Job on 10 September 2009)

Non-verbal communication (NVC) is an essential part of all person to person situations. It assists the success of a speech, it is impossible to discuss oral communication without taking NVC because only up to 1/3 of a message in a person-to-person situation is conveyed by words alone. Also, people rarely trust just words, and always had the ability to read non-verbal cues, everyone signals thoughts and emotions involuntarily. However, people's basic non-verbal behaviors are learnt from environment and culture, therefore it is important not to misinterpret the behavior of people from a different culture or social group. (Spinner, 19982)

Body language and physical appearnce are the major two types of NVC.

Researchers have organised non-verbal cues under 6 types of body expressions:

  1. Emblems refers to common gestures which are a form of sign language and often replace verbal message entirely.
  2. Illustrators accompany and complement the spoken word, they used for adding emphasis or giving directions.
  3. Regulators are used when we wish to control verbal interaction, such as nodding to encourage a person continue speaking.
  4. Adaptors are habits that are unique to the individual and usually developed during childhood, they help to control emotions or overcome discomfort.
  5. Affect displays reveal the feelings of the person while the accompanying words are held back due to embarrassment.
  6. Postures and gestures are various movements such like sitting in a low chair with arms and legs tightly crossed and looking down, this sends a message that the person is unhappy and is not accepting what is being said. (Spinner, 19982)

Written communication

(Picture embeded from Game Pressure on 10 September 2009)

Written communication is also extensively used in air transport operations, such as flight deck ducumentations which included operation manuals, checkliksts, data cards etc, these are all a part of daily flight operations. It is a one way communication, the checklist or documents send the information but it is up to the pilots to interprete the message and then take actions based on their understandings.

Written & graphic communication

(Picture embeded from Virtual Tourist on 10 September 2009)

This type of communication is usually used in flight map, charts and cabin display, for example, safety demonstration on screen before take off. Same as non-graphic written communication, it is one way only, however it's more visualised than just words, therefore it provides more clarity of the message send.

Human/Machine & Machine/Machine communication

(Picture embeded from Rockwell Collins on 10 September 2009)

This type of communication is usually refered to automation. Automation in aviation is concered with reducing pilots' workload, enables the pilot to accomplish the tasks with increased safety and efficiency. Today's automation system in aviation has been described as the "human-centred automation", the principles have been identified as:
The pilot bears the responsibility for safety of flight.
Controllers bear the responsibility for traffic separation and safe traffic flow.

Pilots must remain in command of their flights.
Controllers must remain in command of air traffic.

The pilot and controller must be actively involved.
Both human operators must be adequately informed.
The operators must be able to monitor the automation assisting them.
The automated systems must therefore be predictable.
The automated systems must also monitor the human operators.
Each intelligent element of the system must know the intent of other intelligent system elements.
(Orlady, 19991)

1. ORLADY, H.& ORLADY, L. (1999). Human Factors in Multi-Crew Flight Operations. Brookfield: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.
2. SPINNER, D. (1998). Communication Skills. (4th ed.) Auckland: Addison Wesley Longman New Zealand Limited.

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