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Communication in an Aviation Context – What It Does?

In an analysis of CVR transcripts (Gougen & Linde, 1983), the authors identified four basic speech act types: requests, reports, declarations and acknowledgements. Requests are all those speech acts that require the addressee to perform some actions. Reports are indications of the state of the world. They can be further subdivided into supporting statements, challenges and expressions of belief or feelings. Declarations are specific statements that bring about the correspondence between the propositional content of the communication and reality. Acknowledgements are reciprocating responses from the addressee. In the excerpt (Excerpt 8.1) from the San Juan transcript, I have used this structure to analyse an interaction between the captain and the FO. The captain is questioning the FO’s technique, pointing out the difference between the two models of aircraft - ATR 42 and ATR 72 - in terms of power


Bales' Small Group Analysis Categories

Socio-emotional Factors in Interaction: Positive

  • • Showing solidarity: raise others’ status, gives help, rewards
  • • Showing tension release: jokes, laughs, shows satisfaction
  • • Agreeing: shows passive acceptance, understands, concurs, complies

Task Factors: Information

  • • Giving suggestions, direction, implying autonomy for others
  • • Giving opinions, evaluation, analysis, clarifies, confirms
  • • Giving orientation, information, repeats, clarifies, confirms

Task Factors: Questions

  • • Asking for orientation, information, repetition, confirmation
  • • Asking for opinion, evaluation, analysis, expression of feelings
  • • Asking for suggestion, direction, possible ways of action

Socio-emotional Factors: Negative

  • • Disagreeing, showing passive rejection, formality, withholding help
  • • Showing tension, asking for help, withdrawing out of field
  • • Showing antagonism, deflating others’ status, defending or asserting
  • • Self-oriented behaviours

Source: Bales (1950).

setting. The FO had done his initial training on the ATR 42 and, having only recently joined the company, had been given a short course to introduce the differences on the ATR 72.

Excerpt 8.1

C: The 72, it stays in the notch. [Declaration]

FO: Oh that’s right, sorry. [Acknowledgement]

C: Yeah. You’re familiar with the notch, right? [Request]

FO: Yeah, no yeah, I’m just- [Report (Supporting)]

C: Yeah. [Request]

FO: Used to having- my last captain.... [Report (Supporting)]

C: What? he want you to have- [Report (Challenge)]

FO: Nuh. whu-he’s like - I’m more used to it

when we were hand flying it, I was having you know like kinda doin a lot of this with the with the pow'er,

when I was when I was flying on final and approaches, [Report (Supporting)]

so I just naturally just had my hand here, cause (when)

we’re cornin’ back in and we’re getting ready to s- slow

down so I just had, I always just had it resting here... just

so to remind me. [Report (Supporting)]

Its, its fine. [Report(Expression)]

The first thing to notice is the messy, incomplete nature of communication. Few sentences were finished and meaning is often implicit. Bales (1950) identified two clusters of communication acts that distinguish between events that are associated with task activity and those related to the socio-emotional state of the group. The task cluster was further subdivided by the direction of the intended action, while the socio-emotional acts were identified as either positive or negative.

Bales’ framework (Table 8.1) was an attempt to provide a generic template for exploring small group interactions in a social science research setting. Kanki and Palmer (1993) looked specifically at an aviation context and identified five main communication functions:

  • • Providing information;
  • • Establishing interpersonal relationships;
  • • Establishing predictable behaviour patterns;
  • • Maintaining attention to task and monitoring;
  • • Providing a tool for management (implementing plans, solving problems, making decisions).

There are some points of commonality between Bales’ framework and the functions listed here. Orasanu (1994) proposed sharing information, directing actions and reflecting thoughts as the key aspects of pilot communication. There seems to be little to differentiate between these various taxonomies of communication acts with task direction and relationship building emerging as key themes. Kanki and Palmer include both specific functions, such as ‘providing information’, and some desired outcomes, such as ‘establishing predictable behaviour’. Similarly, Orasanu’s categories overlap, such as with ‘sharing’ and ‘directing’. Her final category, reflecting, suggests behaviour aimed at sense-making. Interestingly, these various attempts to describe communication events all reflect the social/informational evolutionary dichotomy discussed earlier. From a systems perspective, communication serves to clarify goal-directed activity by affording a means to bring some structure to the task and also to manage relations across interfaces. Next, I want to explore how communication works.

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