P. Edronkin

Aeronautical Survival: Communication Problems

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Radio systems can suffer problems and malfunctions that may turn an otherwise quiet flight into a dangerous situation.

If you are operating within controlled airspace, flying either under VFR or IFR, and your radio communications fail, the first thing that you should do is to continue to follow the rules of flight accepted by you and according to your plan in order to keep the airspace around you safe.

However, if you are operating outside radar cover, controlled airspace or under pure VFR, and provided that there are no norms or rules stating the contrary, you should try to re-establish communications following some easy procedures.

There are many things related to your communication systems that could fail; problems may arise in the ground or in your aircraft, and you will need to determine what the problem is in order to find a solution.

If there is a communication problem involving ATS dependencies, you will have to attempt communicating first to the same station using a different frequency, and if that does not work, then you will have to attempt communicating either with another aircraft or another ground station.

If your aircraft has redundant systems, you should try each step at least once with each radio before passing to the next one.

Some days ago I was flying in LV-YMI - a lovely PA-11- with another person over Buenos Aires, approaching from the NW Campo de Mayo military airfield (SADO), on VFR; as we were about to enter the local circuit over the field, we tried to ask for instructions, but no one answered.

Both crew members tried to communicate using our respective microphones, PTT buttons, etc. in order to find out if the problem could be solved in that way, but nothing happened.

Then we changed frequencies and called El Palomar Air Base (SADP); the guys there answered so we immediately knew that the problem was not in our aeroplane, but on the ground. They called SADO for us and after circling at 1.000 FT over the town for a while, we made a regular entrance into the circuit and landed with no further problems.

Had communications with SADP proved impossible, we would have had to conclude that our radio was failing, or that nobody was in the ground at either spots. In that case, we would have begun to transmit blindly or try yet another airport; however that would have carried us into areas of dense air traffic.

Blind transmissions imply repeating twice the message that you intended firstly to communicate, preceded by the phrase 'on blind transmission'; you do this first on your main frequency channel, and then on the secondary one. You may also try to use 121,5 Mhz (emergency channel), but only if you find yourself in a tight situation.

If the problem is with your radio and you have reception problems, you should broadcast your reports using the frequencies and times established on your previous flight plan (you filed one, didn't you?); these should be your standard messages, but preceded by 'on blind transmission due to reception problems.'

Controlled flights (IFR and controlled VFR) should also state the intentions of the pilot in command regarding the continuity of the flight.

Radio problems hardly constitute emergencies in themselves, but they are also more than just simple hassles; an aircraft under such conditions may become dangerous within a congested airspace. Moreover: if the weather goes sour, dusk is coming or a serious in-flight problem develops, the situation may well turn to be an emergency after all and prompt rescue may seem unlikely.

So, it would not be wrong to insist on doing a double check on your radio systems, especially if you are operating from uncontrolled airfields on uncontrolled airspace, because it is in such a situation when one tends to forget things and relax perhaps a little too much.

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