Aviation miscommunication's deadly consequences


An Australian academic who reviewed the language pilots and air traffic controllers use said miscommunication was to blame for many air crashes.

Dominique Estival, a Western Sydney University linguist, pilot and flight instructor has urged native English speakers to adjust their communication in the aviation industry to reduce the risk of misunderstanding by non-English speaking pilots.

Estival said she has heard pilots in Australia saying "cleared for the big smoke" when cleared for takeoff, which was potentially dangerous in a situation where they were communicating with a non-English speaker, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

'Aviation English' was adopted as the international language of pilots and air traffic controllers in 2011.

Radio communication is the main means of communication between air traffic controllers and pilots.

In Esival's new book Aviation English, she warns that some terms commonly used have been misunderstood, with fatal consequences.

She cited examples of pilots and controllers incorrectly using commands and responses like "inbound" and "outbound", saying "no" instead of "negative" or "yes" instead of "affirm" .

"The study of aviation communication sheds light on our understanding of English, and differences between native English speakers and speakers of English as a second language in high risk situations," Dr Estival said. "Effective communication is paramount in ensuring the success of the global aviation industry."

Miscommunication had contributed to the deaths of more than 2000 people who have been killed in plane crashes since the mid-1970s.

She cites a number of crashes that can be blamed on miscommunication, including a runway collision between two Boeing 747s in the Canary Islands in 1977, where a Dutch-speaking pilot's lack of English proficiency may have contributed to the accident. It killed 583 people — making it the deadliest accident in aviation history.

"Not knowing the right terminology, phraseology and using the exact words can be deadly important," she said.

Ghana is a contracting state of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and so is bound to uphold international standards and recommended practices prescribed by the World Civil Aviation regulatory body pursuant.

This means ensuring the safe, orderly and expeditious flow of air traffic. The Air Traffic Control Officers of Ghana practice Aviation English.

There are a number of courses across the world that teach Aviation English.

In 2013, a group of senior Air Traffic Controllers from Ghana travelled to New Zealand where they took part in specialist aviation English training.

There were sent by the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, and would later be responsible for testing their fellow air traffic controllers for Aviation English competency.

Air traffic controllers are required by ICAO to achieve the ICAO Level 4 English Language proficiency criteria before they can rate as controllers.


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