A sobering story by Ken Kaye from South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel:

Since the early 1970s, language barriers have played a role in at least 10 major accidents, killing more than 1,500 people and contributing to dozens of close calls.
To prevent more calamity, pilots and air traffic controllers worldwide are being required by the International Civil Aviation Organization to speak English fluently by 2008.
Although English is the universal language of aviation, many foreign pilots and controllers know only key words and phrases, leaving them vulnerable during an emergency, says ICAO, a Montreal based-group that governs global air operations.

Go to the story for examples of major air-carrier accidents caused by miscommunication. (Via Taccuino di traduzione.)


  1. Personally, I wonder if there wouldn’t be just as many incidents involving miscommunication if everyone spoke English…

  2. Whether humans will even be piloting airplanes at after a few decades also has a bearing on this question — it’s quite conceivable that commercial jets will all be on automatic pilot by then.
    Certainly not by 2008, of course, but I think that turn of events is likely.

  3. The American Esperantist Kent Jones has dedicated the last few years of his activity in the movement to making the public aware of the language problem in international air traffic. Of course, he recommends replacing English with Esperanto, which is ludicrous (even many of us Esperanto speakers think so), but at least he’s one of the few who are concerned. I think the problem is that in too many places in the world English is taught with too little rigor.

  4. Michael Farris says

    I agree that eo has some problems in terms of replacing English in this context (the numbers ses and sep are too close as are too many of the pronouns and some of the table-words).
    On the other hand, blaming the controllers for this for essentially not being near-native speakers seems wrong too and more importantly not very likely to lead to improvements.
    One solution for international contexts is to do something like a restricted code of English that native speakers would require instruction in as well and which pilots and air controllers alike would have to demonstrate proficiency in.
    I don’t know exactly what that would be like but it seems more feasible than just sending a bunch of people into the money-gobbling maw of international ESL instruction.

  5. damn, this makes me wish that they’d make another airplane! move.

  6. Zackary Sholem Berger says

    “Excuse me, I speak jive.”

  7. Cut me some slack, Jack! Chump don’ want no help, chump don’t GET da’ help!

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