Nonroutine transactions in controller-pilot communication

Daniel Morrow, Alfred Lee, Michelle Rodvold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


People use a variety of strategies and devices to make themselves understood, partly in response to different communication constraints. The present study examined how communication during routine Air Traffic Control operations is shaped by accuracy and efficiency constraints. Controllers and pilots use a combination of English and special conventions that have developed in response to these constraints. One convention is the collaborative scheme, in which the speaker initiates a transaction, presents new information, and collaborates with the addressee to accept the information as mutually understood and appropriate (Clark & Schaefer, 1987). We examined how this scheme is used to balance the demands of accuracy and efficiency during routine pilots-controller communication. This scheme also organizes nonroutine communication, where pilots and controllers interrupt routine communication in order to resolve communication problems. Findings suggest that several communication problems can be traced to nonstandard collaborative practices that tax controller and pilot attention and memory. In addition, the accuracy and efficiency constraints influence which strategies and devices are used to resolve these problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-258
Number of pages24
JournalDiscourse Processes
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 1994
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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