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May 2017

English native speaker pilots also to blame for near misses in the skies

Failure to comply with Aviation English standards by both native and non-native speaker pilots and air traffic controllers has led to some frightening near misses, a new independent report has found.

The research, commissioned by the UK Civil Aviation Authority and carried out by linguist Dr Barbara Clark, examines reports of language-related miscommunication incidents.

It lists a series of recommendations aimed at improving the standards and use of Aviation English, the lingua franca of the skies.

Although flying remains the safest way to travel, miscommunication is a safety hazard: the report describes some instances where it has led to near misses. On rarer occasions it was the main cause of an accident.

Dr Clark also found evidence that cheating on language tests could be taking place in some instances. However, the report paints a picture that is far from the simplistic ‘blame it on the foreign pilots’ poor English proficiency’.

The core of the issue, the report reveals, is that Aviation English is a lingua franca, and native English speakers who fail to comply with its standards can be just as dangerous as non-native English speakers. According to Dr Clark, both native and non-native English speakers should undergo the same training and testing (see our comments and feature section for more).

A spokesperson from the Civil Aviation Authority said, ‘We will be studying this research in detail and will work with ICAO (International Civil Aviaton Organisation), other international regulators and the wider aviation industry on any required actions that can help enhance safety standards.’

Read the interview with Dr Clark here

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