Aviation English in the Media
Plane's mayday call missed due to pilot's poor English
Andrew Clark, transport correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 8 June 2006 00.14 BST
Air traffic controllers at Heathrow airport failed to understand two distress calls from an Italian airliner carrying 104 people because the pilot's English pronunciation was poor. A report published today will reveal that the Alitalia jet suffered a near complete loss of its navigational equipment in its final approach to London.
The control tower did not understand a mayday message from the plane's captain and did not initiate usual procedures, which include putting the airport fire service on alert and clearing the runway.
Although the plane, which flew from Milan, landed safely the incident is likely to prompt concern about the quality of English spoken in cockpits. Low-cost airlines are looking increasingly far afield to recruit crew, who routinely speak English as a second or third language.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch said the Alitalia Airbus A320 left Italy last year with one of its navigation systems out of order. On the plane's final approach to Heathrow, a second navigational system failed and the landing was aborted.
While circling the pilot transmitted an emergency message known as a "pan-pan" call and reported the failure. But air traffic controllers did not understand until another aircraft intervened. The report said the pilot had to land manually on a "point and shoot" basis and transmitted a more serious mayday call asking for priority.
The report said: "The mayday element of this call was not heard by the controller. This was probably due to a combination of the commander not announcing the mayday using the expected protocol and his heavily accented English, rather than any failing within air traffic control."
Language skills of aircraft crew have become an issue in the industry as budget airlines have scrambled to find staff for rapidly growing fleets.
A spokesman for the British Airline Pilots Association said: "Balpa is concerned whenever there is a case of English not being properly spoken or understood. There are sometimes cases like this, although thankfully they're very rare." He said there was a back-up system in most jets allowing pilots to use an electronic distress "squawk" instead.
An Alitalia spokeswoman said the incident did not put passengers' safety at risk.
DGCA asks foreign pilots to learn English
Monday, August 21, 2006 23:45 IST
BANGALORE: Recently, a Russian pilot flying an Indian airline misunderstood the instructions in English from the Air Traffic Control (ATC) and crossed the path of another aircraft and nearly sparked off a mid-air catastrophe over Mumbai.
Such near-mishaps happen at least once in ten days with the number of foreign pilots being hired by Indian airliners rising and their difficulties over understanding English increasing, say civil aviation officials. ``But these incidents are not recorded,'' one official confided.
Concerned over the language hiccups, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is planning to conduct English language proficiency tests for pilots as well as ATC personnel. "We have also received a directive from International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) mandating these tests," A K Sharan, director (Training and Licensing) of DGCA told DNA.
ICAO directed aviation authorities around the world to go in for additional training for pilots and ATC officials by March 2008 after finding that nearly 70 per cent of the safety reports it receives speak of communication problems and poor English.
Though the problem is global, it is especially serious in India which depends heavily on foreign pilots because of paucity of domestic talent, according to a DGCA official.
India needs an estimated 1,000 pilots an year while the current output from aviation schools is only about 250. ATC are finding it difficult to communicate with pilots especially from Russia, Korea, Armenia and South American countries.
Besides their routine technical subjects, the pilots and ATC officials would henceforth be given a test in English and those who fail it would be asked to upgrade their language skills, the official said. As the March 2008 deadline approaches, the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers' Associations (IFATCA) too has urged authorities across nations to give a serious thought to the language skills of personnel.
ATC officials say that it's not just the language but even the accent that is giving them anxious moments. "Though our interaction with pilots is usually in codes, it takes long to communicate to foreign pilots with their incomprehensible accents often leading to traffic jams and near-misses,'' an ATC official says, requesting anonymity.
Adds a senior Air Deccan pilot: "Problems also arise when foreign pilots encounter localised English accents of Indians. Though the foreign pilot has a local flying with him, it is the captain who takes the decisions." A Spice Jet spokesman admits to ``serious problems during flying'' over lack of English language skills, adding: "Language is part of training and is important."
China demands its pilots speak better English
Tue Jun 19, 2007 10:02am EDT
BEIJING (Reuters) - Less than a tenth of China's pilots meet international aviation English standards, the airline regulator said Tuesday, encouraging them to rise to the challenge of bolstering their linguistic skills.
But some pilots have the wrong attitude and are prevaricating, the civil aviation authority said in a statement on its Web site (www.caac.gov.cn).
"The requirement to raise pilot's English abilities comes from a formal decision by the International Civil Aviation Organization," it quoted deputy aviation minister Li Jian as saying.
"I hope those comrades who have the wrong thinking drop their illusions, don't wait around and don't rely on others, grasp the present good conditions for studying English and dare to fulfill their responsibilities," Li said.
"This will be long, hard, comprehensive work," he said.
At present, only 651 Chinese pilots had passed the English exams, the statement said. That leaves some 8,000 who still need to pass.
China is experiencing a boom in airline travel on the back of its surging economy, but officials have freely admitted service, training and hardware standards have struggled to keep up.
Many Chinese pilots are ex-military and speak little or even no English, though some airlines do now train their new pilots overseas to ensure they have the required language skills, especially ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
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India ejects pilots for poor English
Thu Feb 15, 2007 9:39am GMT
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India has sent home at least 20 foreign pilots flying for its airlines in the past year as their poor English posed safety concerns, the country's civil aviation regulator said on Thursday.
English is used by India's hard-pressed air traffic controllers, who are struggling to make sense of crowded skies following a surge in new airlines in the last few years.
Rapid growth has led to carriers hiring hundreds of foreign pilots -- including from Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
"There have been cases where pilots have been sent back as their English proficiency was not up to the mark," Kanu Gohain, Director General of Civil Aviation, told reporters.
"Around 20-25 have been sent back, mainly from CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) nations and eastern Europe."
Several near misses have been reported in recent months as planes competed to land at overstretched big city airports.
Newspapers and television channels have said poor communication between foreign pilots and air traffic controllers is often to blame.
Passenger traffic is expected to grow at 19 percent a year up to 2009 and the country's domestic airlines will need more than 400 new planes in the next five years to meet growth.
© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved http://uk.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUKTRE5211LZ20090304
Turkish pilot lands at wrong airport
Source: Radio Polonia, Aug.18.2006
Poor command of English is said to be the reason why the pilot of a Turkish charter plane landed by mistake at a Polish airbase close to the western city of Poznan and not a civilian airport, situated a dozen kilometers away.
After a 3 hour stop over, the plane with 200 Polish tourists on board was allowed to fly on to the civilian airport. Ground control said the female pilot of a Boeing 737 listened to their command but could not say why she landed at the Krzesiny military airport. A spokesman for the ministry of defense colonel Piotr Paszkowski said the pilot spoke poor English and was very shaken.
A representative of the Civilian Aviation Office described the event as an aviation incident. The office will ask the Turkish aviation authorities for an explanation. If no explanation is given, or the Turkish side does not draw consequences from the incident, the Civilian Aviation Office may withdraw permission for the flight operator Sky Airways to organize flights to Poland or to blacklist the Turkish company.
'No English, no licence for pilots'
13 Dec 2007, 0110 hrs IST, Saurabh Sinha, TNN
NEW DELHI: Facing a desperate shortage of trained local commanders, Indian carriers' hunt for them abroad is now taking them to places where people may know how to fly but not speak English. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) last week shot down the request of two foreign pilots for getting their commercial pilot licences validated in India. The reason - A Brazilian pilot being eyed by Jet Airways was not proficient in English and the other hired by a general aviation company did not have his papers in order.
"A Brazilian pilot was to serve an Indian carrier on getting the local validation. But his English was not up to the mark and his request was turned down. We are very strict on this count, and in the past also, have rejected foreign pilots on this ground," said DGCA chief Kanu Gohain. Earlier this year, as many as 25 foreign flyers were turned down for this reason. The second pilot, an American, did not have all his papers and was rejected.
On its part, Jet Airways - which has the highest number of foreign pilots among Indian carriers - says it uses the service of an expat only after being cleared by DGCA. "When the required clearance is not given, we don't hire such a foreign pilot," said an airline spokesperson.
Indian carriers currently have a total of 804 foreign pilots, with Jet leading the pack with 271, followed by Deccan-Kingfisher combine at 244 fliers. All of Jet's 58 Cat-III compliant pilots are foreigners, according to the aviation ministry.
Interestingly, Jet's Indian pilots are seeing red over the alleged difference in treatment between them and the expats. The Society of Welfare of Indian Pilots, a body formed by Jet's 630-odd Indian pilots, recently carried a poll among flyers on this issue and a number of them are learnt to have admitted to this difference.
With the dollar weakening, more and more Indian carriers are looking to hire foreign pilots. Moreover, with its high pay package and a retirement age of 65 (as opposed to 60 in the West), India is also emerging as a natural destination for such fliers. On its part, the DGCA says its language check objective is to ensure that foreign pilots clearly understand English and have no problem in interacting with air traffic controllers when they fly here. The biggest language constraints are faced by pilots hailing from eastern Europe, CIS countries and Indonesia.
Tougher radio-telephony norms for flight crew
Saturday, February 9, 2008 3:41 IST
Procedure to convert foreign flight licence in India made stricter
NEW DELHI: The Indian authorities have framed stringent rules for pilots and flight crew, for efficient radio-telephony communications.
To prevent accidents and ensure flight safety, the Department Of Telecommunications (DoT), in consultation with the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA), has reviewed the procedure for conversion of flight radio-elephone operators' licences (FRTOLs) in India.
FRTOLs are required by all crew members who have to use radio for aeromobile communication in an aircraft.
Essentially, the new rules would mean that the flight crew must be well-versed with the standard international phraseology and procedures used inside and outside the controlled airspace for getting the foreign licence converted in India.
This includes emergency and direction-finding procedures, an expert pointed out. Among other things, proficiency in English is also a must for converting a foreign licence to an Indian one.
As per the new norm, the FRTOL issued by all Commonwealth countries would be considered for conversion/issue of permits in India. But, these licences must be accompanied by valid flight crew licences issued by the same countries. In case a flight radio telephone operator's licence is not accompanied by a valid flight crew licence of that country, the candidate must take an internal examination conducted by the DoT on radiotelephony communications, according to a government memorandum.
So far, valid flight crew licence from the foreign country issuing the FRTOL was not mandatory for the conversion of FRTOL in India.
The changes have been made in keeping with the international practices and requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which recently introduced language provisions to ensure air traffic personnel and pilots are proficient in conducting and comprehending radiotelephony communications in English.
A DoT official told this newspaper that the new norms have been set for flight radiotelephony as several foreign pilots have been getting licences from countries which are not internationally recognised for flight safety. DGCA director general Kanu Gohain refused to comment.
http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?newsid=1149893Crew confusion found in Athens plane crash
Pilots disoriented by lack of oxygen
By Don Phillips
Published: WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2005
PARIS: The crew members of a Cypriot airliner that crashed Aug. 14 near Athens became confused by a series of alarms as the plane climbed, failing to recognize that the cabin was not pressurizing until they grew mentally disoriented because of lack of oxygen and passed out, according to several people connected with the investigation.
Complicating the cockpit confusion, neither the German pilot nor the young, inexperienced Cypriot co-pilot could speak the same language fluently, and each had difficulty understanding how the other spoke English, the worldwide language of air traffic control.
A total of 121 people were killed in the crash after the plane climbed and flew on autopilot, circling near Athens as it was programmed to do until one engine stopped running because of a lack of fuel. The sudden imbalance of power, with only one engine operating, caused the autopilot to disengage and the plane to begin its final descent...
English Language Tests for Pilots
Dec.23,2008 10:20 KST
In April of last year, flight control at New York's JFK Airport asked the pilot of an Air China passenger plane that had just landed if it had been cleared for entry. In broken English, the pilot gave the wrong answer six times. An audio tape of this conversation was posted on YouTube, viewed by hundreds of thousands. An embarrassed Air China administered English-language tests on its pilots -- and 15 percent failed.
In January of 1990, the pilot of an Avianca Boeing 707 passenger jet from Colombia flew over JFK and requested to land, citing a fuel shortage. A flight control operator could not understand the pilot's heavy Spanish accent. The plane crashed killing 73 passengers and crew. Inability to communicate was cited as the main reason behind a passenger jet's crash with a freight plane that was landing in New Delhi in 1996, killing 349.
Each year, 15 to 20 percent of air traffic accidents stem from lack of English proficiency. In 2004 this prompted the International Civil Aviation Organization to remove pilots and air traffic controllers from international flights within four years if their English did not improve. Korean aviation authorities conducted language tests on Korean pilots in 2004 - 2005. Only 27 to 41 percent passed, compounding worries for local officials. But in a test administered in March, all 3,600 pilots passed.
Korean aviation safety officials are rumored to have leaked the test questions beforehand to help prevent flight operations in Korea grinding to a halt. Even then, 95 percent of the test takers barely passed. Pilots and air traffic controllers claimed that dangerous situations are highly unlikely, since the words to be used in different circumstances are set in a universally used manual. There were even claims that pilots and air traffic controllers would fail the test based on their conversational English.
Korean authorities, airline companies and the pilots' union are discussing administering English tests using only aviation terminology. There is no rule that says only aviation terms will be used in flight-related discourse. English-speaking pilots say they are "flying into the dark" whenever they travel into Asian airspace. It is worrying to see pilots and air traffic controllers trying to evade their responsibilities, rather than seek to improve their English.The column was contributed by the Chosun Ilbo in-house columnist Kim Hong-jin.