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Misfunctional FAA phraseology

by Kent JONES


The routine words and phrases to be used in messages between pilots and controllers must not be potential sources of confusion. In order to avoid ambiguity, there must be a one-to-one relationship between concepts and their spoken expression. Further, misnomers and other oddities would not inhabit a scientifically valid terminology.

Flaws in the application of English to the concepts of aviation can produce pilot errors which lead to fatalities, here and abroad. A few examples of them are cited below. They are extracted from The Pilot Reference to ATC procedures and Phraseology.

PHRASEOLOGY DEFECTS

A. NON-SINGULAR EXPRESSIONS FOR CONCEPTS (synonymous utterances)

1. Aviation is a worldwide activity, so pilots and controllers are likely to be in contact with their counterparts of all 189 nations. All the words and phrases used in Air Traffic Control are synonymously spoken in the 38 dialects of English and innumerable foreign accents, such as Spanglish. The FAA and ICAO uncritically accept all of these potential generators of pilot confusion.


BRITISH AND IRISH ENGLISH English English, Scottish English, Scots, Welsh English, Irish English AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND ENGLISH: Australian English, Aboriginal English, Maori English, New Zealand English EAST ASIAN ENGLISH: Philippines English, Hawaiian English, Singapore English, Hong Kong English, Malaysian English SOUTH ASIAN ENGLISH: Sri Lankan English, Bangladeshi English, Pakistani English,.Indian English AFRICAN ENGLISH: Nigerian English, Ghanaian English, Sierra Leone English, East African Englishes, South African English CARRIBEAN ENGLISH: Jamaican English, Patwa, Bahamian , Barbadian / Bajan, Trinidadian CANADIAN ENGLISH: Inuit English, Quebec English, Canadian Standard English, Atlantic Provinces English AMERICAN ENGLISH: Northern, Appalacian English, Southern, Western, African American Vernacular English / Ebonics, Native American Englishes FROM: English Around the World, from 1999 Encarta World English Dictionary.


2.The following are examples of duplicate official FAA expressions idea. They are synonymous expressions, which should be reduced to only one.

a. Concept: fly around the airport FAA Expressions: CIRCLE THE AIRPORT, CIRCLE THE RUNWAY, GO AROUND.

b. Concept: after landing, turn around on the runway and travel toward the arrival end of the runway. FAA Expressions: TAXI BACK and BACK TAXI: Why this word reversal? Worse yet, the NTSB is opposed even to the use of this procedure. Precisely this maneuver was in progress when the worst crash in aviation history occurred, with 583 deaths. But the FAA persists in exposing the public to danger by using it.

c. Concept: this is a request for certainty about some information. FAA Expressions; SAY, VERIFY, CONFIRM. d. concept: command instant action. FAA Expressions: IMMEDIATELY, EXPEDITE and WITHOUT DELAY. These take a longer time to say than the simpler NOW would.

e. Concept: an exclamation from a pilot in trouble. MAYDAY and PAN-PAN . A pilot in trouble hardly cares about tiny differences in meaning of these two expressions.

f. Concept; tell your speed. FAA Expressions: SAY SPEED and SAY MACH NUMBER. g. Concept: watch out for a balloon. FAA Expressions: DERELICT BALLOON and UNMANNED BALLOON OVER... h. Concept: you may be approaching a severe danger due to wind. 8 FAA Expressions:: WINDSHEAR ALERT, ARRIVAL WINDSHEAR / MICROBURST ALERT, DEPARTURE WINDSHEAR / MICROBURST ALERT, LOW LEVEL WINDSHEAR ADVISORIES IN EFFECT, MICROBURST ADVISORIES IN EFFECT, MICROBURST ALERT, MULTIPLE WINDSHEAR / MICROBURST ALERTS, POSSIBLE WINDSHEAR OUTSIDE THE SYSTEM.

i. Concept: the paved area near the airport buildings. 3 FAA Expressions: RAMP = APRON = TARMAC. Three designators, one concept.

k. Concept: basis of the cited time 3 FAA Expressions: Greenwich Mean Time, GMT = Zulu time = UTC.

3. Synonymous measurements

TOPIC FAA REST OF WORLD distance nautical miles kilometers air pressure inches of mercury millibars runway length feet meters or kilometers weight pounds kilograms volume gallons liters

4. Synonymous phrases of Air Traffic Control TOPIC FAA ICAO desisting from an action hold stop move away exit vacate These are two examples in a list of 49, in which the FAA and the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) use different words for the same concept. The ICAO expressions are used everywhere outside the U.S. Pilots entering or departing from the U.S. must use two different sets of words. These are 49 opportunities for disastrous confusion.

B. NON-SINGULAR MEANINGS FOR WORDS AND PHRASES. (Homonyms, homophones, homographs). These expressions have ambiguous meanings, even within the aviation field.

a. TAXI can mean a helicopter, as in HOVER TAXI and AIR TAXI.. TAXI additionally can mean to move, as in driving a car. b. AIRCRAFT can mean either one aircraft or many aircraft. c FLIGHT TEST can deal with either 1. apparatus, or 2. persons. d. NOVEMBER is the name of the letter N. NOVEMBER is also given the meaning of an aircraft ID number. A third meaning of NOVEMBER is the month itself. e. TANGO is the name of the letter T. It also designates an air taxi, or helicopter. f. ZULU is the name of the letter Z. ZULU is also a basis for designating time at the Greenwich meridian. g. CONTACT APPROACH is a type of an approach to an airport. CONTACT APPROACH is also a command to radio the controller who handles approaches. h. GATE is a location at the terminal building. GATE is also a point in the sky. i. ROLL means to pivot in the air about the longitudinal axis of the airplane. ROLL is additionally a forward motion, as in takeoff roll. j. SLOT is a part of the forward edge of some wings. SLOT also a time interval for a takeoff. k. REMAIN deals with location, but also with radio frequencies.

k. Homophones. English contains 7,700 homophones. BRAKE sounds like BREAK; ONE and WON TWO, as in two two thousand, sounds like TO, as in to two thousand. FOR sounds like FOUR EIGHT and ATE MISSED sounds like MIST RIGHT sounds like WRITE HEAR and HERE

l. Homographs CONtent and conTENT appear identical on a printed page. The same problem besets REFuse and reFUSE. English contains 1,440 homographs.

m. Homonyms. English contains more than 50,000 homonyms. These words with more than one meaning are the basis of the abundant puns in English. This trait, amusing in social conversations, is a contributor to confusion in aviation usage. CLEAR - This can mean free of obstructions, clarity of expression, transparency, permission to do something. FLARE - Can be a magnesium candle, a landing maneuver, or the termination of a tube. OUT - Can mean no reply needed, OUT OF =not in service, FLAMEOUT = flame lost. TAKE OFF - can mean start to fly, a list derived for an estimate, a spline delivering power to a machine, etc. RIGHT - can mean either a direction, correct, or a right to do something. LEFT - can mean a direction, or departed.


C. ODDITIES: IMPLAUSIBLE CHOICES OF WORDS AND PHRASINGS

1. Phrases with deceptive wording. a. GO AHEAD is intended to urge speaking, but it can and does erroneously lead to dangerous forward motion. b. STANDBY is a complicated way to say WAIT, and summons the image of standing. c. AUTOROTATION does not rotate an auto. ROTATION is used otherwise in aviation for the climbing maneuver after takeoff. d. LOAD NUMBERS - Is this a command to insert numbers into a computer? No, it refers to the loading of the airplane. NUMBER additionally means the position in a traffic sequence. In HAVE NUMBERS a pilot refers to yet a third concept, numbers for runway, weather and altimeter. e. LEFT TRAFFIC - did the airplane depart from the airport traffic? No, this specifies a pattern.

2. Illogicality

a. STOP AND GO are impossible to do simultaneously. Stop THEN go is logical. THEN is indeed used elsewhere, as in DESCEND NOW TO ... THEN DESCEND AT PILOTS DISCRETION MAINTAIN ... b. CLIMB AND MAINTAIN ... Same impossibility. c. DESCEND AND MAINTAIN ... Same. d. LAND AND HOLD SHORT - Same.

3. Misnomers. Aviation language must be usable by pilots and controllers in 189 countries, not just pilots and controllers familiar with American aviation jargon. The meanings of these expressions cannot be deduced from their construction. Their real meanings differ from their apparent meanings. While these can perplex some Americans, they can stump pilots from non-English speaking backgrounds. a. FEATHERED PROPELLER - It is not covered with feathers. b. CLEAN CONFIGURATION - It has nothing to do with cleanliness. c. TAKEOFF - Nothing is taken off, rather flight is started. d. METEOROLOGY - has nothing to do with meteors. e. LIGHT GUN - is not a gun which is not heavy. f. CONTAMINATED RUNWAY - It has no medical problem, but is merely slick. g. DEAD RECKONING - is not a counting of the dead. h. COCKPIT - Is it really a place where roosters fight? i. DEICER BOOTS — Foul weather footwear for one whose job is deicing? j. BANK - The shore of a river. To BANK - Suggests putting money away. k. FLUID OUNCE - Is a unit of volume, not weight as ounce implies. l. LANDING GEAR - A toothed wheel for landing? m. READBACK -really means simply, repeat.

4. Idioms

a.BETTER THAN FIVE THOUSAND AND FIVE . Common sense could never decipher this kind of jargon. b. "Can you make the runway" asked a Seattle controller to a Russian pilot. His answer should have been, "Making a runway requires construction equipment and material." C. WHEELS UP TIME. Yet another example of the cult-like American ATC talk.

CONCLUSION

The FAA has ambitions that, by the year 2008, English will be upgraded by memb er states of the ICAO from today" mere Recommendation to a compulsory Standard for world aviation. Passing an examination in English would become a precondtion for employment as a pilot or air traffic controller everywhere.

Such an upgrade cannot happen until the words and phrases become scientifically respectable, which they are not today. Instances have been shown above of duplicate words and pronunciations for concepts, duplicate concepts applied to expressions, and several confusing oddities. These co nstitute misfunctional FAA phraseology.

A complete language overhaul is necessary, and must begin by defining the field of necessary aviation expressions. The careful assignment of words and phrases to cover that field can then achieve the necessary condition of one concept / one expression. Lacking that expressional singularity, English will not merit the status of language Standard for world aviation.

Miscommunication, which causes about 15% of all crashes, is the most easily reducible risk to aviation. The General Accounting Office (Dr. Gerald Dillingham) should survey the situation and report to Congress. Probably NASA’s Human Factors Research should be given the task of comprehensive and exhaustive research into aviation language.







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