Airline pilots bemoan uncivil aviation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 January, 2008, 12:00am

Airline pilots say Hong Kong air traffic controllers have jettisoned old-fashioned good manners as they direct pilots in and out of the city's increasingly busy airport.

Pilots complain that they no longer get a civil 'good morning' or 'goodbye' when they communicate with controllers at Chek Lap Kok and that some are brusque to the point of rudeness.

In a heated debate on the pilots' online gossip forum 'Fragrant Harbour', pilots have bemoaned the lack of common courtesy in their conversations with controllers, particularly since the departure of many senior controllers in recent years.

However, air traffic controllers have responded on the forum that they are often too busy to engage in chit-chat and are clearly instructed not to clog up limited frequencies with inconsequential banter.

One pilot asked: 'What happened to the good mornings, good evenings, or even a simple hello or goodbye that we all used to hear every time we tuned into the frequency or were released to the next one? ... It only takes two or three seconds to make a difference.'

A Cathay Pacific captain complained that on one occasion when he called an air traffic control supervisor to thank his colleagues for helping to get a sick patient quickly off an incoming flight, the supervisor said 'okay' and hung up on him.

'My initial response was to think, 'That's the last time I ever thank Hong Kong Air Traffic Control for anything',' he wrote indignantly, arguing that controllers should make an effort to show 'good manners where possible'.

Air traffic controllers logging onto the forum gave characteristically short shrift to the grumblings.

'Saying things like 'Good morning' is not standard Air Traffic Control phraseology and should not be encouraged - we are taught that,' one of them wrote.

'If you care about 'Good morning' and 'Goodbye', go home and teach your parrot. Perhaps then someone will greet you with 'Welcome home'.'

A senior Hong Kong-based Airbus captain told the Sunday Morning Post that the decline in courteousness showed the experience level of controllers had 'dropped markedly'.

'This has been compounded by the fact that they have, until recently, not been allowed to recruit as many new controllers as they have wanted to because of a government hiring freeze,' he said.

'It is plain professional not to clutter the airwaves with unnecessary chatter when the frequency is busy, but I still exchange pleasantries when I can.'

Hong Kong's international airport is handling record numbers of flights, with almost 300,000 air traffic movements in the 12 months to September 30 last year and 7.4 per cent more passengers than in the same period a year previously. A Civil Aviation Department spokesman said there had been no instruction to controllers to cut out pleasantries. The department 'always advocates and promotes harmonious working relationships between controllers and pilots', he said.

The spokesman added: 'As the sky is becoming busier than before, it is perhaps true that both pilots and controllers worldwide are generally finding it more difficult to afford the luxury of non-essential communications.

'This is certainly not an indication of lack of good manners, but rather a manifestation of professionalism in ensuring the best use of airtime.

'During a typical busy traffic period, the control frequency could well be operating close to saturation, leaving very little time for greetings', but 'controllers still do greet pilots on the radio when they can afford the time to do so'.