Touching Bases: Report cites need for better tower comms

 - May 29, 2008, 10:17 AM

A Flight Safety Foundation publication cites a report from the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center of the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding controllers’ errors in communications. The report says tower controllers need improved memory aids; improved means of communications with pilots; improved means of coordinating actions with colleagues; and improved surveillance and monitoring equipment.

The Volpe Center report analyzed 256 FAA reports of tower operational errors between January 1997 and June 1999. Of that number, 99 reports involved level 5 towers–those that see more than 100 arrivals and departures per hour. General factors that contributed to the operational errors were classified as aircraft observation (60 percent); coordination (44 percent); communication error (41 percent); visual data (36 percent); ground operations (33 percent); readback (30 percent); complex runway configuration (28 percent); and number of aircraft (27 percent). Numbers in parentheses indicate the percentage of the 256 FAA reports that included the given category as a contributing factor to the error.

A second set of contributing factors included controller-to-pilot communication error (19 percent); controller coordination error (18 percent); controller forgot something (27 percent); and an absent supervisor or senior controller (11 percent). A full analysis of the report can be found on the Flight Safety Foundation Web site at