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.
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.
Worst: I recommend listening to this extended audio (via AVweb) of Jason Maloney, the young pilot who cavalierly decided to land on the Long Island beach very close to Kennedy Airport, only after hearing the New Orleans exchange above. Rather, do that only if you're ready to be built up to at least a moderate sense of outrage. The New Orleans exchanges show what members of this system are capable of. Those in New York show how their patience and calm can be abused. The New York Times link here includes two audio highlights from the end of the flight, worth hearing in order. First "Are We Allowed to Land on the Beach?" and then "I'm Going to Make a Precautionary Landing." Bear in mind that the controller being imposed on in this breezy way is responsible for airline traffic at a major airport in the most congested airspace in the world. I am glad that Maloney and his passengers are safe, because beach landings take some skill.** But now that they are safe, throw the book at him.
* In the New Orleans tape, you'll hear the pilot say that all his instruments have failed and he "needs a PAR." This stands for "Precision Approach Radar" and it means that the controller, watching the plane on radar, takes responsibility for guiding it in to a landing -- turn left, turn right, descend, level off. I mentioned recently that airliners can land just fine even if a controller falls asleep. This is the exception illustrating the rule, a case in which normal navigation systems are gone and the controller has to talk the airplane down.
** The "emergency" that allegedly forced the landing is that one of the passengers in the plane was going to throw up. Not to be indelicate, but this is why you carry little bags in the plane.