Single Pilot IFR is one of the most dangerous types of flying in general aviation. The biggest reason is it requires high workload and multitasking. Multitasking is from the Latin phrase ubadus multitaskus, which means doing more than one thing badly at the same time. The human brain is always more effective when it can focus on one thing. That one thing should be flying the airplane.
Over the years I’ve found five key phrases that, when told to ATC, reduce workload and make IFR much easier.
“Say Again Slower” is most useful when trying to copy a clearance, but also in the air. Many people, including controllers, make the mistake of trying to save time on a busy frequency by talking too fast. This backfires by creating mistakes and using even more time to repeat and correct instructions. Another way to combat this problem is by talking slowly yourself. People tend to mimic the speed they hear.
“Standby” is the key behind one of the most important aviation safety rules. Aviate, then navigate, then last and only if you have time comes communicate. If you are busy briefing an approach, programming avionics or just busy getting the plane stabilized, let ATC know that you are busy and call them again when you have time.
“Negative ATIS” is one of the most useful phrases available. It’s hard enough to fly a plane and listen to one radio. Trying to listen to a second radio in busy airspace can make flying harder. When you tell a controller that you are negative ATIS, you are letting them know that you aren’t ready for the approach. They only have two choices. They can either give the ATIS to you (Cockpit Resource Management) or give you time to get it yourself. It’s usually easier and faster to give it to you.
“Vectors for Time” is not found in the Pilot-Controller Glossary. It’s a great example of just telling the controllers in plain English that you need a little help. Rushing into an approach you’re not ready for is an easy way to fall behind and get into trouble. If you are instructed to turn left and descend to intercept the localizer before you are stabilized, just ask for their help. A great response is “I’m not ready for the approach, can you give me some vectors for time?” They will put you on some long, straight legs out of the way that are easier than a holding pattern. This will give you time to get stabilized and set up.
Last and most important to our safety as a pilot is to tell the controllers no when something won’t work. The NTSB reports are full of pilots who agreed to something they weren’t ready for. My best example is when ATC asks me to make a maximum forward speed on an approach in actual IMC. Airlines, which have a much lower accident rate than GA, all mandate something called a stabilized approach. Completely changing a practiced configuration and rushing procedures can be really dangerous.
Remember that you are Pilot in Command. Remember that controllers are there to help you be safe, and they will, as long as you ask them for help.
Did I get it right or wrong? What are some other key phrases that have helped you?