Language communication problems in the aviation industry are to be studied by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). An extensive research project will explore whether poor command of English - the language of global aviation - amongst some pilots and air traffic controllers, is leading to increased safety risks. The project will explore how existing methods of maintaining clarity can be enhanced to reduce or eliminate language–related problems, which can contribute to accidents or serious incidents.
The CAA said there is evidence to suggest that proficiency of ‘Aviation English’ the industry’s communicative standard - regulated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) - is not always at the required level amongst some pilots operating in the UK, and some air traffic controllers working internationally.
The research, funded by the UK Department for Transport under the auspices of the UK State Safety Programme, will be undertaken by Dr Barbara Clark, a linguist and anthropologist specialising in aviation communication and safety at Queen Mary, University of London.
Setting out the project’s agenda, Dr Clark said: “This project shows that the UK recognises the need to maintain clear and unambiguous communication in aviation, and is treating it as a serious matter. Most interaction between pilots and controllers happens without any ambiguity or misunderstanding, but there are still instances where meaning is unclear, not everyone is on the same page, and mistakes can happen. Given the global nature of aviation and the many different cultural backgrounds of pilots and controllers, it’s understandable that some misunderstandings occur.”
The research results will be available in 2014 and the findings will be shared with the international aviation industry.
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The CAA is the UK's specialist aviation regulator. Its activities include: making sure that the aviation industry meets the highest technical and operational safety standards; preventing holidaymakers from being stranded abroad or losing money because of tour operator insolvency; planning and regulating all UK airspace; and regulating airports, air traffic services and airlines and providing advice on aviation policy from an economic standpoint.