Flight Training: Why Communication is a Core Skill

Previously, we introduced Evidence-Based Training (EBT) as an important concept rooted in the principles of competency-based flight training and assessment. This month Mario Pierobon discusses the importance of ‘Communication’ as a key element of this...

Mario Pierobon  |  25th July 2023
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Mario Pierobon
Mario Pierobon

Mario Pierobon holds a Master’s Degree in Air Transportation Management from City University London,...

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Here's why communication is so vital in flight training


Evidence-Based Training requires that a Flight Department’s training be developed and delivered in accordance with actual training needs (as opposed to assumed or theoretical). The goal is to develop a wealth of behavioural competencies, including how flight crews communicate. This reinforces a solid professional attitude in flight crews and helps them acquire and nurture necessary technical skills.

Essentially, Evidence-Based Training (EBT) is a major change to traditional training, and there’s a need for more corporate Flight Departments to familiarize themselves with the EBT system.

ICAO Document 9995 (Manual of Evidence-based Training) highlights that one of the main components of EBT as a crew training paradigm is a set of behavioural competencies. It’s advantageous to develop, train and assess competencies utilizing scenarios that are relevant to your own operations, and in this way flight crews can be prepared for both known and unforeseen threats and errors.

The competencies identified by ICAO are listed in Appendix 1 to Part II of Doc 9995, and include the following:

  • Application of procedures.
  • Communication.
  • Aircraft flight path management, automation.
  • Aircraft flight path management, manual control.
  • Leadership and teamwork.
  • Problem solving and decision making.
  • Situation awareness.
  • Workload management.

Individual operators are encouraged to develop their own competency system, which should list observable behavioural indicators that meet their specific needs and include a set of technical and non-technical knowledge, skills and attitudes, according to ICAO Doc 9995. Thus, we will focus on ‘Communication’ as an EBT-specific competency here.

Evidence-Based Flight Training: What Makes Communication Vital

According to IATA’s Evidence-Based Training Implementation Guide, Communication is regarded as one of the key EBT competencies. That’s because it requires flight crew to demonstrate effective oral, non-verbal and written interaction, both in normal and unusual situations.

In describing Communication as a core competency, it is also necessary to introduce the term ‘Behavioural Indicator’.

According to ICAO Doc 9995, a Behavioural Indicator is “an overt action performed, or statement made by any flight crew member that indicates how the crew is handling the event”.

The demonstration of a Competency can be assessed using Behavioural Indicators, which should meet the required level of performance, as established by the operator. In other words, Behavioural Indicators are those things that may or may not be observed in the operating or training environment. Together they ‘indicate’ whether a given competency is sufficiently developed, or if it needs reinforcement.

What Does Effective Pilot Communication Cover?

ICAO Doc 9995 formulates Behavioural Indicators in the third person, and lists the following indicators of effective communication:

  • Ensures the recipient is ready and able to receive the information.
  • Selects appropriately what, when, how and with whom to communicate.
  • Conveys messages clearly, accurately and concisely.
  • Confirms that the recipient correctly understands important information.
  • Listens actively and demonstrates understanding when receiving information.
  • Asks relevant and effective questions.
  • Adheres to standard radiotelephone phraseology and procedures.
  • Accurately reads and interprets required company and flight documentation.
  • Accurately reads, interprets, constructs and responds to datalink messages in English.
  • Completes accurate reports as required by operating procedures.
  • Correctly interprets non-verbal communication.
  • Uses eye contact, body movement and gestures that are consistent with, and support verbal messages.

While EBT applies to flight crew training, it is also important to emphasise that communication should not be trained in a compartmentalized fashion. In other words, do not limit it to communication between flight crew members.

According to EASA AIR OPS at AMC1 ORO.FC.231(i), the successful resolution of aircraft emergencies requires interaction between flight crew and cabin/technical crew, and emphasis should be placed on the importance of effective coordination and two-way communication between all crew members in various emergency situations.

The same applies to emergency and safety equipment training that should, as far as possible, take place in conjunction with cabin/technical crew undergoing similar training with an emphasis on coordinated procedures and two-way communication between the cockpit and the cabin.


How to Improve Flight Crew Communication

In relation to communication as a core competency, IATA’s Evidence-Based Training Implementation Guide points out that communication errors can be either from the crew to external parties or pilot to pilot miscommunication or misunderstanding.

Crew to external party communication errors could occur through missed calls, misinterpretation of instructions, misreading, and mis-clearance, for example.

The loss of communications, either through pilot mis- selection or a failure that is external to the aircraft, could only be for a few seconds or a total loss. In either case, the necessary steps include:

  • Recognizing the loss of communications
  • Taking appropriate action
  • Executing appropriate procedure (as applicable)
  • Using alternative ways to communicate, and
  • Managing any consequences.

Ultimately, training should focus on the flight crew operating as an effective team, not just as a collection of technically proficient individuals. And it should provide an opportunity for crew members to practice their skills together in the roles they normally perform in flight.

Programs should teach crew members how to use their personal and leadership styles in ways that promote crew effectiveness, while teaching them that their behaviour during normal, routine circumstances could have a major impact on how the whole crew functions during stressful, high-workload situations.

During critical emergency situations, basic skills and knowledge often become critical and a crew member is unlikely to be able to take the time to reflect on their Crew Resource Management (CRM) training to determine how to act.

Thus, EBT as a new training paradigm is becoming increasingly relevant and can yield very positive benefits to Business Aviation operators, as highlighted through our focus on Communication as core EBT competency. Stay tuned for reviews of other key competency areas of EBT in future articles...

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