Air travel safety is a major concern. Air traffic controllers, with their communication skills and their own unique language keep people safe.
If you are a frequent flier, you understand that the air traffic controller, partnered with pilot skills, are the two components that keep you safe when the plane takes off and approaches an airport. English is the language in the sky and it is the language that is used by all airport controllers, in whichever country to fly from or land in. That is a universal rule.
Even if it is mandated that English is the language that should be used by all air traffic controllers anywhere in the world, there is bound to be some miscommunication. First, air traffic controllers and pilots are human, and are bound to make mistakes, although the occurrence of mistakes should be avoided at all costs. Secondly, we cannot discount the fact that English is not the first language of all the people that are employed as air traffic controllers and pilots. In as much as they are required to take English lessons, and all air traffic control instructions are in English, there are some people whose skill in speaking the universal language is below par.
Air traffic controllers (ATC) say that there are daily occurrences of human errors between pilots and air traffic controllers. It is common, and most of them go unnoticed. These errors present no safety threats because there are established technology and communication systems. Still, accidents do occur due to miscommunication, and this is an undeniable fact.
However, it cannot be discounted that errors and communications can and will still occur. English is the official language used in aviation. It is vital that both sides know the language. Just in Heathrow Airport alone, controllers deal with 1,350 flights and 85 airlines each day. And the controllers need to be able to clearly communicate with pilots of different nationalities.
An air controller from Heathrow states that they give extra attention when the pilot is of a different nationality and English is not the pilot’s first language. He said they have to speak slower and not use abbreviations as they normally do.
A pilot that regularly flies to Southeast Asia and China says that ATC standards in Hong Kong is high, however, he encounters problems when he flies to the mainland. There are also different policies in how airlines recruit pilots with English language proficiency.
In pilot-controller communication, standardized phraseology is of the highest importance. This is according to the ICAO or the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is an agency of the United Nations and in-charge of the air safety regulation standards.
The radiotelephony communication between pilot and controller is a crucial part of the training for both types of personnel before they can get their license. And the ICAO continues to review and update its standardized guidelines for phraseology to meet the aviation system’s current demands.
There will always be challenges when the pilot or the traffic controller does not speak English. For most pilots and air traffic controllers, trust is also needed. There are systems in place to correct minor errors. In the cockpit, one pilot flies while another pilot does the monitoring. Double checking is always employed. Overall, it is effective communication that is the main key to airline safety.
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