In honor of retired air traffic maestro Don Brown's recent stint as a guest in this space, here are two real-world recordings of pilot-controller interactions in the past week, illustrating the best and worst of professionalism and demeanor.
Best: the sang-froid, competence, smooth multi-tasking, and immediate triage-style attention to fundamentals shown by everyone on the ground and in the air during United 497's emergency landing in New Orleans. On the flight crew's part, the challenge was dealing with: an apparent in-flight fire, perhaps the most frightening of emergencies; the loss of all navigational instruments as they circled back to the airport for landing*; and the need to land on the shorter of the airport's runways with their heavy, still brimming-with-fuel plane, because the longer one was blocked by repair equipment that couldn't scramble off in time (and the plane couldn't circle to buy time, because smoke in the cabin suggested it might be on fire).
On the controllers' part, this meant: guiding the plane for its emergency return; managing other planes headed to and away from the airport; determining whether the equipment could be moved; and making a situation of life-and-death consequence easier rather than harder for the flight crew.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune has a great, informative feature about the "save" on its Nola.com site, here, which includes the illustration above plus an absolutely riveting audio (from LiveATC.net, no separate link) of the discussion among the flight crew, the controllers, and ground crews. Note the unbroken calm of all involved, including about a minute in when the tower controller asks the pilots the freighted question, "Say souls onboard." (That is something I have heard from a controller only once; story another time.) These people, on the ground and in the air, deserve acclaim similar to that for Chesley "Miracle on the Hudson" Sullenberger.