Situational Awareness; Even ATC Loses it Sometimes

By Robert Mark on March 14th, 2007

There is nothing worse than flying into busy terminal airspace when the weather is bad and the pilots are feeling like they’re four or five minutes behind the airplane. The captain’s and first officer’s hands are moving furiously around the cockpit moving switches, updating the FMS and responding to the radio all the while listening to an ATC professional – yes, probably a NATCA member I bet – safely sort it all out from the ground.

Sometimes though, no matter how good it sounds coming out of the person’s mouth, it’s clear their brain is just not in the same place. And with the lack of patience most passengers have these days, as well as pilots at times, ATC delays are usually no laughing matter. 

Just like pilots though, ATC does sometimes completely “lose the picture,” as controllers call it. Take a listen to this ATC ground control session at JFK where that happened to a controller.

But this guy stayed professional and rolled with the punches and best of all, didn’t lose his cool. And neither did any of the pilots, a few who whom were making this fellow’s job even more difficult because they were obviously confused as well.

Nice job guys!

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5 Responses to “Situational Awareness; Even ATC Loses it Sometimes”

  1. Dave Koch Says:

    Rob,
    Great JFK Gnd Cntrl tape. The bad news is that JFK’s always been like this and it sounds like it’s getting worse.

  2. Norman Says:

    The other evening in ORD I (777) got popped onto final at 10 miles at 6000′ and got cleared for the approach. It was night, the weather was fine but it was windy and the freq was exceptionally busy – then someone declared an emergency… Up to the intercept we couldn’t get a word in to prompt a descent.

    The run up to that point in space was interesting, the controller was overloaded to the point where he lost vertical situational awareness – his horizontal SA was fine :-)

    It happens; I would hate the job and admire those who do it so well.

  3. Robert Mark Says:

    Your comment made me wonder what might have happened on your flight, if you had NOT been cleared for the approach. I’m assuming you’d have joined the localizer and flown inbound, correct?

    And if the guy at ORD had been so busy that he never cleared you by the time you hit the glideslope, would you simply expect to go around.

    I relaize this seldom happens, but I’m just curious about how the crew is thinking at this point.

  4. Slowclimber Says:

    I don’t understand was was supposedly ‘professional’ – total lack of standard phraseology by controller and pilots alike. Sarcastic and ‘funny’ comments instead of getting on with it. And before you ask, yes I’m a controller too.

  5. Rob Mark Says:

    I’m not sure where you work, but in a place like New York, this honestly didn’t sound that off base to me.

    These were a bunch of busy people trying help each other figure it all out, I thought.

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