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Divided by a common language? Language and Safety: Case Studies Philip Shawcross, ICAEA. ICAO LPRI workshop, Saint Petersburg 24th-26th May 2011. Aspects. Insufficient language proficiency in operational communication

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divided by a common language language and safety case studies philip shawcross icaea

Divided by a common language?Language and Safety: Case StudiesPhilip Shawcross, ICAEA

ICAO LPRI workshop, Saint Petersburg 24th-26th May 2011

  • Insufficient language proficiency in operational communication
  • RT discipline & inappropriately idiomatic speech by ‘Level 6’ native English speakers
  • Language erosion over time and the loss of language proficiency under stress
  • Aviation language training which does not address the conditions of operational use
  • Sub-standard or inappropriate testing
inadequate comprehension new delhi
Inadequate comprehension (New Delhi)
  • ATC: ‘Traffic is at 8 miles now FL 140’


  • Radio operator: ‘Keep at FL 150’

KZK 1907 / SV 763, Charkhi Dadri, India, 12 November 1996

inadequate expression avianca 052
Inadequate expression (Avianca 052)
  • ATC: ‘And Avianca 052 heavy I’m going to bring you about 15 miles northeast and turn you back on for the approach. Is that fine with you and your fuel?’
  • AVA 052: ‘I guess so. Thank you very much.’


  • ATC: ‘Avianca 52, climb maintain 3,000’
  • AVA 052: ‘Ah, negative sir, we we’re just running out of fuel. We OK 3,000, now we could.’

Avianca 052, New York 25 Jan 1990

inadequate expression avianca 0521
Inadequate expression (Avianca 052)

NTSB findings

‘The failure of the flight crew to adequately manage the airplane’s fuel load, and their failure to communicate an emergency fuel situation to ATC before fuel exhaustion occurred… Also contributing to the accident was inadequate traffic flow management by the FAA and the lack of standardized understandable terminology for pilots and controllers for minimum emergency fuel states. The Safety Board also determines that windshear, crew fatigue and stress were factors that led to the unsuccessful completion of the first approach and thus contributed to the accident.’

unfamiliar pronunciation
Unfamiliar pronunciation

‘When we experience problems, it’s not that this has necessarily caused me to make a wrong turn or do something incorrectly; the problem that I feel it has caused is the communication and the deciphering of what exactly that they want us to do takes a little bit of time and puts us behind the aircraft.


Sometimes I won’t catch the numbers in a frequency change, the name of a fix or off-route waypoints because they might be pronounced differently.’

US Airline Transport Pilot International Experiences Report 2, 2010 (www.faa.gov/library/reports)

results of 11 719 safa inspections on elp
Results of 11,719 SAFA inspections on ELP

‘In 5.8% of the cases (i.e. 679 cases) the inspections identified findings concerning the language proficiency of the pilots: no ELP endorsement or endorsement with level lower than required.’

EASA: SAFA (Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft) harmonisation topics based on inspections carried out 01.01.2010 – 31.01.2011

2. RT discipline & inappropriately idiomatic speech by ‘Level 6’ native English speakers
rt discipline non standard phraseology
RT discipline: non-standard phraseology

ATC: ‘Jet Blue 497 we've got a lotta weather in the area that's slowing things up a little, so I need you to go to Fostor the 010 Fostor radial and hold at the 15‑mile fix, left turns expect further clearance at 1512.’


ATC: ‘Jet Blue 497, hold NE on the Fostor 010 radial one five mile fix, left turns, expect further clearance 1512, time now 1455.’

FAA Air Traffic Bulletin, 2003-4

use of different languages on the frequency cdg
Use of different languages on the frequency (CDG)
  • ATC: ‘Liberté 8807 (quatre vingt huit zero sept), autorisé au décollage 27 (vingt sept), 230° (deux cent trente degrés), 10 (dix) à 15 (quinze) noeuds.’
  • LIB8807 : ‘On décolle 27 … Liberté 8807.’
  • ATC : ‘Streamline two hundred, line up runway 27 and wait, number two.’
  • SSW200: ‘Line up runway 27 and wait, Streamline 200’

LIB9907 (MD83) / SSW200 (Shorts 330) Paris CDG 25.05.2000

inappropriately idiomatic speech by level 6 native english speakers
Inappropriately idiomatic speech by ‘Level 6’ native English speakers
  • UA 497: ‘We are declaring an emergency and please rollequipmentfor our landing please.’


  • Approach: ‘United 497, Say souls on board and fuel remaining.’


  • Tower: ‘There is a bunch of equipment on there they're tying to get off now.’


  • Approach: ‘If you continue on this present heading you'll set up on the shorelinefor 19 … You got the water, right?’


  • UA 497: ‘Yeah, we got the water and we're going to stop here about 600 feet.’

United 497, New Orleans, April 2011


He _____________ [to be] a commercial pilot since 2003. Before _____________ [to become] a commercial pilot, he ____________ [to be] a private pilot for seven years.


The leading edge can ______________ a layer of ice.

a) pull up b) take up c) pick up d) uplift

non communicative language non icao rating scale criterion
Non-communicative language /Non ICAO rating scale criterion

Read the text and answer the questions:

VORs operate on frequencies of 108.00 MHz through 117.95 MHz. VHF frequencies offer relatively interference-free navigation, but unlike lower frequency radio waves, which can skip within the atmosphere or travel over the ground for great distances, VOR reception is strictly line of sight. This limits usable signal range at low altitudes or in mountainous areas.

VOR reception may be limited by:

a) ground equipment b) terrain c) aircraft equipment

communicative but non operational aviation topics
Communicative, but non-operational aviation topics

Use this diagram to describe the

four forces of flight to your partner

5. Sub-standard or

inappropriate testing

Are these test tasks transposable to operational communicative functions?

e.g. Doc. 9835 Appendix B


Translate into English:

  • ‘Mi riporti prima di entrare sul piazzale principale’
  • ‘Estamos tratando de mantener el rumbo. Vamos a tratar de mantener diez mil pies’
blank fill listening comprehension
Blank fill listening comprehension

Listen to this recording and complete the text with the missing words:

The A319 departed from Alicante at 09:26 UTC. The commander was the pilot flying. The aircraft was in VMC at Flight Level 320 near Nantes, at 10:52 when the crew heard a loud “clunk” and several systems became inoperative. The commander’s initial assumption was that either the APU had shutdown or the APU generator had failed. He saw that his own electronic instrument displays had blanked and so, after checking that the co-pilot’s instruments were available, handed over control.

writing task
Writing task

Listen to this recording of an in-flight incident and write a short report (100-120 words)


At approximately 13:42 UTC, engine number four began surgingand soon flamed out. The flight crew immediately performed the engine shutdown drill, quickly cutting off fuel supply and arming the fire extinguishers. Less than a minute later, at 13:43 UTC, engine two surged and flamed out. Within seconds, and almost simultaneously, engines one and three flamed out prompting the flight engineer to exclaim, "I don't believe it—all four engines have failed!“

The second engine to fail was Engine a)1 b) 2 c) 3 d) 4

discussion of aviation topics
Discussion of aviation topics
  • ‘Why did you decide to become an air traffic controller?’
  • ‘In what ways have low-cost carriers affected the aviation industry?’
teaching to the test
Teaching to the test
  • ‘Targeted training aimed at acquiring the technical aviation vocabulary used in the phraseology recommended by ICAO’
  • ‘Oral practice based on the test tasks in previous exam papers’
test shopping ecac
‘test shopping’ (ECAC)

‘… statements of compliance, on their own, are necessarily of limited value. Related to this, there are important issues around the comparability of language proficiency testing programmes, and grounds for concern that differences in the real or perceived difficulty of tests run by different bodies is leading to ‘test shopping’, including within Europe.’

Report of the ECAC ad hoc working group on English language proficiency, March 2011

purchasing level 4
‘Purchasing’ Level 4
  • ‘Order and pay for the ICAO Proficiency Test to get your ICAO certification’
  • ‘Take your ICAO compliant aviation English test using the XXXXXXX testing and assessment solution’
how is level 4 delivered
How is Level 4 delivered?

‘In certain cases it was identified that, although pilots have the ELP endorsed in their licence with the required level, the communication between inspectors and crew was very difficult, raising doubts about the effectiveness of the ELP examination.’

EASA: SAFA harmonisation topics based on inspections carried out 01.01.2010 – 31.01.2011

Thank you very much for listening