To view a full History of the English language in Civilian Aviation go here.
Why Choose One Language?
- In order to facilitate unencumbered and safe air travel it has been established by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) that communications between members of the air traffic community shall be conducted in English.
- Not just that, but it must be done in such a manner as to avoid miscommunications. Thereby a set of “standard phraseology” has been established.
- Standard phraseology is for use by Pilots and Air Traffic Controllers in the civil aviation arena to better accomplish the desired results of aviation: A safe flight form A to B through successful and safe practices.
- There are separate divisions within the aviation English phraseology for words, letters, numbers and specific identifiers (like airports or specific technologies).
- All of these rules have been put in place to placate the problems of miscommunication.
- With any human language being an inherently flawed means of communication, they do keep occurring.
- Many steps have been taken to mitigate the issues as detailed here and here. But currently, all civil air traffic communicators must use these rules from ICAO.
Good Aviation English
The following video contains a highly professional crew and controller engaged in an emergency situation.
What occurs is a non-standard emergency event that has been practiced many times over. Because of the professionalism of all parties involved and the many hours of practice, a sort of 'ballet' ensues. Massive amounts of information are passed very quickly between the crew, the controller and a multitude of third parties. All the exchanges are short bursts of "standard phraseology" and the result is a successful emergency landing.
|(Video embedded from YouTube on 09 Oct 2010)|
Bad Aviation English
An example of not only non-standard phraseology, but also a lack of English language ability from both the American Ground Controller and a Chinese Boeing 747 international flight crew can be seen in the video below. What begins as a casual and non-standard question quickly escalates into a stressed, unsafe and unprofessional exchange on the airwaves of a very congested airport.
|(Video embedded from YouTube on 09 Oct 2010)|
More information about these issues is available here.
Below is a brief summary of simple measures taken in standard phraseology to attempt to mitigate the communications issues within the English language. For the clarification of information over very high frequency (VHF) radio transmissions, it was quickly established that many letters and numbers could be confused (for example the letters T, D, E, C, G, & B all have similar sounding names). So the tables of phonetic identifiers below was established to resolve the issue.
The same has been done in many areas of Aviation English phraseology to the same effect (for example EXPEDITE contains consonant pairs unlike other words in English, hence it mitigates confusion, even when the transmission is degraded by noise or insufficient signal clarity).
ICAO Letters, Numbers and Morse Code.
The Problem With Any Language
Any language is impure and a skewed representation of the intended message.
We use words that we, through our culture and experience, associate to certain items or concepts. But there is always a loss in the system and miscommunications are going to occur. Even when two native English speakers communicate in English there are many pit falls for them to navigate. English has issues with oxymoron’s, homonyms (to, two, too) slang and more . When Non-Native speakers use the language the problems simply multiply.
Problems with Non-Native English Speakers in Aviation
Throughout the last decades of the 20th century more than 35 major crashes and many more near misses were found to have English language ability communication errors pertaining to “non-native English speaker’s miscommunications” as a contributing cause . Hence the recent establishment of ICAO English language proficiency requirements.
After more than 1000 people lost their lives between 1985 and 1995, due in part, to non-native speakers in aviation, many theorists pushed the concept of a new ideal of communication within aviation (E.g. Data link communications; where humans are simply removed from the equation, or a new aviation language removing the issues within English from the equation). Although none of these options have been rolled out internationally, much research has been applied to the issue. In 2004 ICAO released the ICAO English Language Proficiency Requirements in an attempt to remedy the situation. It has since been established that these measures have not yielded the desired result and that more will need to be done to mitigate future repeates of past failures in communication.
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