Pilot to Executive Speak

I think a requirement for being called a profession is to develop a set of buzz words and acronyms that only insiders, those of us in the loop, can know. Sort of the equivalent of a secret code so that we can identify each other. To a pilot, FAR, IFR and VFR all have very specific meanings. But a government contracting officer, FAR means Federal Acquisition Regulation. To a military researcher, FAR means Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, Cuba’s military forces! To most people, FAR means a long way to go.

While acronyms facilitate communication within the loop, it obfuscates things for "outsiders." In aviation, most of our customers are outsiders: the executive, the accountant, the aircraft owner, etc.  To them, aviation folks might as well be teenagers texting - ROFL!

Effective communication depends on the sender and receiver being on the same frequency. It is all to common for us to misunderstand what was said, and also too common to remain silent rather than ask someone to restate it in plain English. Here are a three tips to help communicate airplane speak into common English.

Tip #1. Keep It Simple (Stupid) KISS.
If two pilots are talking about the weather, you can throw in acronyms to make the discussion clearer, and fast. But when the passengers get on board, you need to soften it a lot. You may need to explain what the term alternate airport means. "Because the weather is poor at our destination, we need to carry extra fuel in case we need to land somewhere else. Today, that alternate if further away than normal, so we need to carry even more fuel." This may ease the pain of the request to offload baggage or a passenger or re-plan the trip in extreme cases.

Tip #2. Be wary of the word "safety".
All our flying is "safe." But, sometimes, we need to or have to operate to different levels of safety. A Part 91 flight has more flexibility in what the rules call safe than a Part 135 flight. Excuse me: Part 91 means flights that are privately flow and not flown for hire, such as a corporate flight department's trip or an owner-pilot flight. Part 135 applies to charters and similar flights. Different rules, different requirements. Both are safe. In the case of in-house rules, the boss/aircraft owner needs to understand that your rules may be different than another operator's rules even though they may have the same aircraft.  When safety is the issue, by all means use that term. In other cases, maybe "margin for error" is a better term?

Tip #3. Understand that the same term may have different levels of meaning to the non-flyer.
An owner just had his plane in for a 2400 hour airframe check. During the check, the maintenance facility found corrosion in the tail. To the pilot or mechanic they know the corrosion is small, perhaps even invisible to the naked eye. The aircraft owner, however,  may think of a rusted bumper on a old car! So when explaining the corrosion to the aircraft owner, we need to explain that, for an aircraft, any corrosion is too much. We don’t want the owner to think the aircraft is about to fall apart in flight (thus violating Tip #2 above).

Why do you think those "Dummies" books sell so well? They take complex subjects and remove the acronyms and jargon to explain the basics in a refreshingly simple manner. In aviation we need to communicate with non-aviators on a daily basis. Technical jargon can confuse those who don't have the training and knowledge to interpret it. We need to explain what it means to them in terms that make sense - to them. Explain things in terms that your listener will understand in terms of their own experience.

(Please feel free to print this off and bring it to your next Doctor’s visit)