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Aviation Communication: Effective Communication in Preventing Accidents Research Paper

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Updated: Mar 12th, 2022

Introduction

On January 25th, 1990 at 9:34 p.m. Avianca 52 flight crashed leading to the death of 73 of 158 people that were on board. Events leading to this crash reflect poor communication as well as poor coordination on the part of the crew and traffic air controllers. While the plane had about 12,000 gallons of fuel, which was more than the 10000 required to reach Kennedy international Airport, delays caused by bad weather, traffic congestion, and poor organization and communication led to the exhaustion of fuel and consequently the mishap of the Avianca flight. Effective communication and organization are illustrated to be very vital when we consider the events that led to this crash that would have been easily avoidable. While the crew was not able to give the flight controllers the true picture of their desperate condition, the traffic air controllers on the ground did not coordinate and communicate effectively to control air traffic in a better way. (Klotz, 2008)

Main body

It would have been appropriate to alert the ATC on the possibility of a fuel problem a few minutes after eight P.M. on that fatefully day when the plane had been put on hold at about forty miles to its destination at Kennedy airport. Having descended to a lower altitude, the controllers at New York who were handling the holding would then have been able to give the plane a priority on time. At this time, the captain should also have indicated that it would not be possible for the plane to go to its alternate route at Boston because of a fuel shortage. (Weiner, 1990)

It is interesting to note that although the flight had been delayed for a long time, the crew did not inquire from the ATC about when they could be required to go to their alternate destination. A possibility for this is the crew could have been deceived that they would soon be allowed to land since they had been directed to descend and had been holding and circling around Kennedy Airport for about forty minutes. A great possibility is also that the flight crew was not familiar with the norms and rules in the United States. One of these norms is that a Captain is required to make a decision of diverting to an alternate way immediately he suspects or confirms that he has hit the minimum diversion fuel. (Weiner, 1990)

To some level, ATC failed to prioritize traffic efficiently in the area. This was mainly caused by the fact that the level of priority was not properly communicated when they transferred control among themselves. For example, although the controller controlling the holding at New York had noted that Avianca was in real trouble, he did not communicate this effectively and followed it up to the local controllers that were controlling traffic at Kennedy Airport. (Helmreich, 1994, p.267)

When the causes are considered, it all goes to poor communication as the cause of this crash. First, the ATC could have inquired earlier if the plane could have been able to move to its alternate apart from giving Avianca immediate priority for landing when the situation had worsened. The fact that there were more than three delays proves the fact that there was poor coordination and communication between the traffic air controllers at different localities. It is not enough to transfer control but also the history and the state of the flights. Moreover, I think it is not enough for the ATC to insist on words like an emergency to confirm desperation. In this particular case, what had been communicated indicated well enough the desperate situation of Avianca. The captain had for example said he could not hold any longer. (Helmreich, 1994, p.268)

Apart from enhancing better control and communication in the ATC, the same need to be strengthened within the flight crew for such accidents to be avoided. The captain for example did not use words like an emergency to reflect the real situation. I also think that it would be much better to increase the threshold fuel needed for flight slightly higher. Passing an English Test and familiarity with rules governing the airspace where a crew is allowed to fly are conditions that also need to apply for the prevention of such mishaps. (Klotz, 2008)

Conclusion

Effective communication and coordination need to be enhanced for safer flights in the airspace. This comes with knowledge of keywords like emergency, proper transfer methods of communication apart from professionalism abilities for the flight crew and ATC. Communication is a key to safe flights and it, therefore, needs to be enhanced to the highest levels that are possible.

Reference List

Helmreich, L.R. (1994). “Anatomy of a System accident: The Crash of Avianca Flight 052”, The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, Vol. 4, No. 3 ,pp. 265 – 284

Klotz, M. (2008). Avianca Flight 52: Why the pilots failed to use the proper phraseology? Web.

Weiner, E. (1990). “Fuel Emergency for Avianca Jet said Premature” New York Times. Web.

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