When there is a pilot flying (PF) and a pilot monitoring (PM), does the PF always listen to flight deck radio communications? I would think Yes under normal conditions, but optionally No during emergencies, to reduce the PF's workload. Are there general guidelines for when the PF should or should not listen to radio communications, including listening to whatever the PM is saying on the radio?


2 Answers 2


A fundamental aspect of Crew Resource Management is that both crew are fully aware of everything that is happening in the flight deck so that they can continuously cross check each others' actions, to the extent that they can, to catch errors.

This goes double during emergencies. So the PF will be listening in on coms (although he/she may be tuning them out during intense stress - and the PM should be aware of that possibility) when they are not listening or communicating with someone else, such as a Flight Attendant, or a separate ATC frequency for whatever reason, or Company frequency (although this would be after the emergency drills are done).

During the peak workload part of an emergency, there shouldn't be any radio communication going on anyway other than the PM selecting 7700 and possibly making a Mayday announcement and to standby, if they can fit all that in (if an engine quits at rotation, likely nobody will be talking to ATC at all until the airplane is squared away or there is some break in the action). It's priority Number 3 in the Aviate, Navigate, Communicate meme after all.


If it were obvious and if crew miscommunication hadn't led to serious incidents / accidents, it wouldn't have been researched and studied (including by NASA) to improve the training.

Many incidents/accidents can be used to highlight the issue re ATC comms, but to keep it short and to address your request for a guideline, then:

  • Active Pilot Monitoring Working Group. "A practical guide for improving flight path monitoring." Final Report of the Active Pilot Monitoring Working Group. Alexandria, VA: Flight Safety Foundation (2014). (PDF; flightsafety.org)

From which, the recommended role definitions aimed at aviation managers are:

Pilot flying. The PF's primary responsibility is to con­trol and monitor the aircraft’s flight path (including monitoring the flight guidance automated systems, if engaged). The PF is secondarily responsible for monitoring non-flight path actions (radio communica­tions, aircraft systems, other crewmembers and other operational activities) but he/she must never allow this to interfere with his or her primary responsibility, controlling and monitoring the flight path.

Pilot monitoring. The PM's primary responsibility is to monitor the aircraft’s flight path (including autoflight systems, if engaged) and to immediately bring any concern to the PF's attention. The PM is secondarily responsible for accomplishing non-flight path ac­tions (radio communications, aircraft systems, other operational activities, etc.) but he/she must never allow this to interfere with his/her primary responsibility, monitoring the flight path.

Permanently establishing these role definitions in a source document sets the foundation for training effective monitor­ing skills and begins the culture­-transforming mental shift away from "your leg/my leg" to "our leg," a paradigm in which both pilots understand that their primary responsibility is to ensure the safe flight path of the aircraft. [emphasis added]

As you can see, radio communications fall under the secondary responsibilities of both the PF and PM. If all is well and everything is under control, recommendation 12 in the guideline says:

  • Educate flight crews that communicating with ATC is an important task;
  • Require both pilots to listen to ATC clearances [...] [emphasis added]

And I ask you to read the opening paragraph again.


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