Air Transport World

Speaking With one voice.

Increased emphasis needs to be placed on ensuring that English remains the standard language for air/ground communication.

As a United Nations agency, ICAO can't force any member state to do anything. That is too bad, for many safety-related reasons, including the too-slow adoption of standard English terminology for air/ground communications.

ICAO recommendations on the matter have changed little since the end of World War II. Annex 10 recommends that air/ground communications be conducted in the language normally used by the station on the ground. But English is supposed to be used and available to any aircraft in international operations. A second language, in addition to English, may be accepted for use within a region.

Selection of English was neither an accident nor meant to be temporary. It was spoken by the strongest aviation nations after the war. Despite ICAO's soothing diplomatic tones, those countries made sure then and subsequently that no one misinterpreted the intent. An attachment to the annex avers: "... The English language ... will be available as a universal medium," The original provision was "considered only as a first step toward a complete solution of the problem ... a final answer will only be achieved when the English language has been thoroughly simplified by codification and limitation and where necessary, by the addition of words from other languages.... Such a development ... is needed for the greatest possible safety."

That is, a stripped-down, aeronautical English, with some non-English additions, is the goal. So, why do accident reports still suggest poor English communications as at least a partial cause in some crashes and incidents, and why hasn't it been made mandatory and been enforced by ICAO members?

"National sensitivities" is the answer. …

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