Pilots’ poor English could cause air disasters, study finds

Pilots’ poor English could cause air disasters, study finds
The safety of aeroplanes is being put at risk because of a poor standard of English among foreign pilots and air traffic controllers, some of whom are cheating on language tests, according to a new report.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) commissioned the report over concerns that a lack of fluency in English, the international standard for aviation, could lead to accidents over Britain and abroad. 

The report found language proficiency among pilots is falling below required international standards, and revealed cheating on exams, corruption and inadequate testing were key problems.

The report looked at 267 incidents of miscommunication over an 18-month period, 89 of which occurred in the UK.

Possible language difficulties were cited in one situation where a plane taxied onto the runway at a Midlands airport without clearance from the air traffic controller. Another incident involved confusion over left and right on the approach to Manchester Airport.

Rather than being examined, the report found some foreign language speakers had been granted certificates of English proficiency on “sweetheart” deals, through “handshakes” or via friends.

It also found “alleged evidence of cheating,” whereby candidates in one country had passed the tests after just 10 days’ tuition - a “nearly impossible” achievement, according to one of the report’s contributors.

The study also said some air traffic controllers outside Britain do not always have sufficient English to communicate with pilots, even though they have been obliged to meet an industry standard since 2008.

The report says “language-related miscommunication issues are as important to aviation safety than any other issue” such as turbulence or disruptive passengers.

It recommended more language spot checks and making sure pilots and controllers used proper terminology instead of just “plain language.”

The Department for Transport said it was discussing the report with the CAA.

NATS, the air traffic control organization, said any mistakes were taken very seriously and investigated.