Sloppy & Childish American Airlines Pilot Gets Aggressive


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As an aviation geek, I love listening to air traffic control audio, and always enjoy the VASAviation YouTube channel, which does a great job covering noteworthy air traffic control interactions. The channel has just uploaded a video involving an interaction between a Phoenix air traffic controller and an American Airlines pilot.

Often when I share these clips, there’s not one party that’s completely in the right or wrong. Well, in this case the fault 100% lies with the pilot, and he definitely needs a talking to, as he seems to have a serious anger issue when being called out over his unsafe communication.

American pilot struggles to communicate properly

This incident involves a recent American Airlines flight from El Paso (ELP) to Phoenix (PHX), with the flight number AA1479. Before we get into the details, let me emphasize the key thing to listen for here, for those who may not be familiar with air traffic control communications.

When pilots are given instructions by air traffic controllers, it’s very important that they read them back accurately. This includes reading back the callsign of the aircraft, as well as the specific instructions (altitude, runway, heading, etc.). After all, we’ve seen a lot of close calls lately, and many of those can be avoided when everyone is on the same page.

With that in mind, here’s how the communication starts between the pilot and air traffic controller:

Pilot: “Phoenix approach, good evening, American 1479, with you.”
Controller: “American 1479, Phoenix approach, expect 25L.”
Pilot: “25L.”
Controller: “American 1479, 26 available tonight, if you’d like.”
Pilot: “We will take 26!”
Controller: “American 1479, verify that’s you.”
Pilot: “That is American 1479, sorry. We will take 26.”
Controller: “American 1479, expect 26, fly present heading, maintain 5,000.”
Pilot: “Present heading, 5,000, expect 26.”
Controller: “American 1479, if you could fill the callsign again. Fly present heading, maintain 5,000.”

I just want to point out how ridiculous this is, because in three interactions in a row, the pilot fails to read back the callsign. Like, you learn to read back your callsign or tail number on your first day of getting your private pilot license, so the pilot of a commercial airliner shouldn’t make a mistake like that.

Interestingly at this point, the other pilot takes over communications briefly, as you hear a different voice, and he’s much calmer and more competent. Then the first pilot takes over with communications again, and unfortunately it goes even further downhill:

Controller: “American 1479, cleared visual approach runway 26.”
Pilot: “Cleared for the visual approach, American 1479.”
Controller: “American 1479, cleared visual approach runway 26.”
Pilot: “Uh, we got a communication problem. Are you hearing this radio clear? Because I’m saying what I need to say but something’s not happening.”
Controller: “American 1479, you said ‘cleared for the approach,’ I need the runway assignment, which is runway 26, not 25L or 25R. You’re cleared visual approach runway 26, and you’re not reading that back correctly.”
Pilot: “Cleared for the visual approach to runway 26, American 1479.”
Controller: “American 1479, if you need a phone number, you can call in and we can talk about the case, but you misread the last three transmissions without a callsign and without a runway assignment. You need a phone number?”
Pilot: “I am not gonna waste my time.”

At this point the American flight is handed over to the tower, and the same pilot comes in with even more of an attitude:

Pilot: “Phoenix tower, American 1479, visual runway 26.” (he reads the callsign intentionally very slowly and with an attitude)
Controller: “American 1479, Phoenix tower, runway 26, cleared to land.”
Pilot: “Cleared to land runway 26, American 1479.”
Controller: “Are you okay? You seem very hostile.”

Below you can hear the interaction. You absolutely should listen, so you can understand just how hostile the pilot’s tone was, all while the air traffic controllers are surprisingly patient.

What’s this American Airlines pilot’s deal?

Hey, maybe this guy was just having an off day. The thing is, sometimes pilots don’t perform at their best, but they’re usually sheepish about it. What’s bizarre about this pilot is that he’s both not performing his job correctly, and has a God complex at the same time, thinking he can do no wrong.

If you ask any pilot or air traffic controller whether you have to read back your callsign or a runway assignment, they’d say “of course you do.” Yet somehow this guy makes mistake after mistake, but accepts no responsibility for it.

I don’t get it. He claims he’s “saying what [he] needs to say.” So does he really not think it’s necessary to read back runway assignments or callsigns? If so, I think it might be time for him to go to recurrent training, so he can brush up on the basics.

Then there’s the completely bizarre aggression with which he approaches a second air traffic controller, which makes you wonder what this guy’s deal is. The controller immediately wonders if the guy is okay and why he’s so hostile.

Honestly, this guy doesn’t sound like someone who you’d want at the controls of a plane when there’s an emergency, in terms of his ability to logically analyze a situation and stay calm.

Also, I can’t help but wonder what the dynamic was like in the cockpit during all of this. It’s interesting how they just keep switching the communications back and forth between the two pilots. I assume at first they switched communications because one pilot was calmer than the other, but then they go back to the original guy, and he’s just as angry?

Bottom line

An American Airlines pilot seemed to struggle with air traffic control communication. He didn’t read back the callsign or runway assignments, which are absolute necessities. When he was called out on it, he claimed he did nothing wrong, and that he’s not looking to waste his time. But then he gets super aggressive with the remainder of his communication.

We all have bad days, but this guy needs some retraining. It’s one thing to have a sloppy day, it’s another thing to claim you’re doing nothing wrong, get aggressive, and shift blame.

What do you make of this interaction between an American pilot and air traffic controller?

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