We need to talk…

'We need to talk,' often spells out trouble. Disrupted communications can ruin the day. South Africa is becoming more ICAO compliant. Changes in Radio Communications Failure (RCF) procedures are vital to note. But, let's consider how a problem can develop. AOPA in the US was once concerned about a series of disrupted communications affecting air safety in the period preceding 1995. Dual Instruction, presumably the safest form of flying, was at one stage problematic. The “paradigm” formed part of the problem. An exaggerated emphasis was placed on “pilot independence”. The presumption was to cultivate judgment and decision making abilities to aid the pilot, once on his or her own. They were asking questions at the oddest times in oddest ways, to get protégés thinking independently. In cases instructors became so 'absorbed' that they lost communications with air traffic controllers, inadvertently. This resulted in situations analogical to RCF.

The students could not detect or catch their 'overly occupied' instructors' mistakes as 'team awareness' was not instilled. The 'independent pilot' approach resulted in latent drawbacks manifesting later as crew coordinating difficulties. The study also focused on how intra-cockpit communication disruptions could negatively affect communications with air traffic service units (ATSU). In numerous incidents both the ATSU and student were vying for the instructor's attention! Some instructors at times isolated ATC with the “ISO” switch on the intercom. Especially in the circuit and within ten nautical miles radius it proved difficult for instructors to NOT compete in the cockpit with the ATC. The intensity of training correlated with proximity to the ATSU. They were ironically less vigilant in areas where more vigilance was required. One can only imagine how such situation was contributing to runway incursions, altitude busts, near-misses, go-arounds, etc.

Having a copy of SA CATS 91.06.16 dealing with RCF aboard can save the day. The new situation differentiates between flight under IFR in airspace with and without surveillance (e.g. radar). This applies to aircraft on a flight plan starting out in VMC, but unable to maintain VMC. Regarding the RCF requirement according to SA CATS (2) note

- In airspace without surveillance, maintain last assigned level or minimum altitude and speed for 20 minutes - not three minutes.
- In airspace with surveillance, maintain last assigned level or minimum altitude and speed for seven minutes - not three minutes.

climb to level filed in the flight plan. The cockroach flipping the switches in our head can topple off his cork unless we bear in mind the respective 20 and seven minute periods start at the LATEST of any of the following

- Time when last ATC assigned level on minimum altitude was reached.
- Time when transponder was set to code 7600, indicating RCF.
- Time over last compulsory reporting point without communication.

The rest of the procedure is as always, like to proceed to the beacon or fix and commence the approach at last expected approach time (EAT) received and acknowledged, or as se to the estimated time of arrival (EAT). Referring specifically to SA CATS 91.06.16 (2) (e), please note nobody is saying anything about “ETA plus ten minutes”.

The old 'jump-start' situation is notorious as alternators are normally working over-time afterwards to replenish the tired old battery. Activating an electrical motor like the gear-up selector or the landing light, etc. can cause wiring to overheat, the system to overload and circuit breakers popping out . A total electrical failure combined with RCF technically represents an emergency condition. The required squawk code is 7700 instead of 7600 for RCF, not that it will do you any good. Fly safely!

Johan Lottering - Focused Flying
Aviation Safety

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