Controllers Vs Pilots

Just last night I was browsing through a few aviation blogs when I came across a post titled "Controllers Vs Pilots...Why it's a bit like a bad marriage". This is a topic that I must admit, I try to avoid in my blog. Due to the broad range of visitors My Life And Air Traffic Control receives, I'm sure to offend someone!

It's a topic that controllers talk about in the tower and pilots talk about in the cockpit and a fly on the wall would tell you that the two conversations, although on the same topic, are very different. I'm going to attempt to pick the above mentioned blog apart and break it down in such a way, that maybe the pilots out there that feel the same way as this author, might have a better understanding of where ATC stand in this argument.

The author begins by asking the question "how can you work together in an effective partnership when one person is always telling the other what to do". It is often obvious to the controller that a pilot may feel this way due to a number of factors which are all disappointing. Firstly I'd like to say that Controllers don't "tell" pilots what to do. We simply issue an "instruction" and we do it because it's our job and we have to. It is not personal, there is no malice behind it. The only time it gets personal is when you don't comply with our instructions or you complain about it and it gives us the shits.

Just two weeks ago I had an aircraft joining upwind for the circuit and at that time another aircraft was directly underneath it and becoming airborne from a touch and go. The instruction I gave to the pilot was:

"Maintain 3000, there's touch and go traffic becoming airborne beneath you, report sighting an aircraft turning crosswind."

The pilot responded in an angry voice "Tower can't we have normal decent".

This a perfect example of what gets on our nerves. Why do I have to explain my actions to this guy more than once? He is maintaining 3000ft because it is not safe to issue decent on top of another aircraft. Not because I feel like f#@king him around.

A pilots lack of compliance with an instruction or complaining makes our job harder and it's unnecessary. At the end of the day we are only there to do a job and ensure safety. It's our licence on the chopping block. All you are to us is an aircraft and a registration so don't get upset by being "told" what to do.

The next paragraph the author goes on to talk about pilots not understanding separation requirements and that once upon a time "controllers were required to learn basic flying skills as part of their training - at least to have minimum air experience time."

Only yesterday I wrote an article on this topic. As explained in my previous post, Air Traffic Controller's do, do extensive flight theory on course, among other things. So we do flight theory, why shouldn't a pilot do ATC theory? We also have pilot publications in the tower, why shouldn't a pilot have ATC publications in the cockpit? And as for controllers having air time, the equivalent would be pilots having tower or radar time which is a ridiculous proposal.

The next comment was "I like to rub the salt in a bit more mentioning, pilots normally controll to VFR or Tower requirements on their own when at unmanned airfields to some extent." A little bit confusing in the way it's written but I know what you are getting at. If an aerodrome was busy enough to warrant having a controller there 24 hours a day, the controller would be there 24 hours a day. Please don't confuse self separation outside of tower hours with Air Traffic Control. I have had this conversation before with other controllers, wondering what that busy sequence would have been like if the tower wasn't open. Just watch what goes on at a busy aerodrome minutes before a tower opening, or just minutes after close and the answer is clear.

"Pilots don’t always understand the complexities of the controllers requirements for separation, nor do controllers always find out what the pilots need in terms of performance and engine types". This is a true statement. We may not know ALL of your needs and requirements but we do have a pretty good idea. Aircraft are grouped into simple categories. One group for example could be piston, turbo-prop and jet. If you have any special requirements advise ATC on first contact or just making a simple transmission is all that is required. It is not our job to ask every aircraft what their special needs may be.

I'd like to complete this article by quoting the only paragraph I was even close to agreeing with.

"When the pilots begin to learn about required separation standards, and provide helpful requests and/or suggestions, and the controllers begin to learn about pilot requirements, aircraft performance, and flight priorities not from the books but from the realities of aviation, we can all work together more effectively."

Some elements of truth in that. The rest was utter bullshit.

Air Traffic Control Separation Standards

It's been a frustrating couple of weeks. A few things have come up, but one thing in particular got under my skin a bit.

You may or may not have read my previous post on a runway standard issue that came up, but another issue with the same standard has come up again. Here's the scenario.

ABC was cleared to land and roughly 500m down the runway.

There had obviously been a bit of confusion in the cockpit as to whether DEF was to be for a touch and go or a full stop. Previous to this point in time he had called on base for a touch and go. The clearance was withheld as ABC was still on short final and DEF was advised he was number two.

DEF then made a second call on about a 1 mile final that he was to be for a full stop landing. My assessment was that ABC would shortly vacate, even if he required full length for his landing roll there was no collision risk. So DEF was then cleared to land.

ABC vacated at the second taxiway, DEF landed shortly behind and that's the end of the story.


ABC contacted the ground controller and advised him that DEF had been given a landing clearance while he was still on the runway. The ground controller then advised the pilot that no separation standard had been breached, as a landing clearance can be issued with another aircraft on the runway provided that in the opinion of the controller no collision risks exists, end of story.


Not happy with the ground controllers response the pilot of ABC then attempted to convince the ground controller otherwise. He then proceeded to tell how he had to brake hard to vacate the runway at the taxiway he did, otherwise he would have required full length. The standard was then further explained to the pilot which was then responded to with silence.

An easy way to avoid this type of confusion is for me as the controller to avoid using the standard. It was quite easy to withhold the clearance until ABC had vacated and prior to DEF second call on final that is probably what would have happened. But in my opinion I had good reason to use the standard.

The first reason is because it is a standard that can be used. It's an open and shut case really and there's not much more to comment on that.

The second reason in this scenario is to cut down transmissions. Saving time is a good habit to get into in this job as things can get out of hand if you don't. We are trained in various techniques to do this and reducing the amount of transmissions is one of them. It reduces workload and reduces frequency congestion. How many pilots reading this have been in a control zone and had to "wait in line" for an opportunity to make a transmission? I'd say all of you. By reducing the transmissions the controller makes it also reduces the number of transmissions the pilot makes and things run a hell of a lot smoother.

In my explanations of scenarios I only ever include the aircraft involved. At the time this situation happened I had at least half a dozen other aircraft on frequency and other traffic conflictions to consider. When DEF called on final for a full stop landing by issuing the clearance then, I reduced the frequency transmissions by two and was then also able to transmit to another aircraft.

As previously explained, the Air Traffic Controller's course included a lot of theory from the private pilot's license course and we have publications readily available in the tower, used by pilots such as AIP. Maybe there should be a topic on ATC Separation Standards in the course for a PPL? If not maybe some documentation available on this topic?

To my knowledge there is no such thing but maybe one day someone might clue on to the fact that it's a good idea.

Until then...