The scary truth about international travel

Aviation is an international industry and as a result involves multiple languages.

However, as deemed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), English is the official language of aviation.

The industry considers that some pilots may not be fluent English speakers and as a result pilots are obligated to participate in an English proficiency test.

The problem is that each country has their way of deciding proficiency, says Georgia State linguistics professor, Eric Friginal. He says the question is how do you make it globally standard.

"In the U-S we have the FAA but in various other countries, they have their own thing, " says Friginal.

Communication breakdowns have contributed to at least three deadly plane crashes in the past several decades. This issue is not necessarily life-and-death all the time, but intercultural communication can be complicated if one or both parties are non-native speakers.

Here is actual audio from an exchange between a pilot and air traffic control where communication is a problem:

Through its International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations has developed recommendations for international aviation, but in terms of the actual implementation there is not always clear oversight.

So, for example, Brazil’s air traffic controllers may have different protocols from those in China or another country.

Friginal says, "currently, no one is technically monitoring and analyzing these things."

And the problem could only grow as demand for pilots grows globally. If you look at Asia alone, there will soon be up to 300,000 new pilots needed in the region.

"We would love to partner with Delta Airlines, since the hub is right here in Atlanta", says Friginal.

The ultimate goal is to develop an Aviation English Research Center based at Georgia State in collaboration with other institutions. Friginal adds, "with expanded funding and partnerships, we could continue to make major contributions to this field of research."





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