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Error Potential Related to the Use of Aviation English in the Maintenance Environment

Home Articles Error Potential Related to the Use of Aviation English in the Maintenance Environment

Error Potential Related to the Use of Aviation English in the Maintenance Environment

IFA Professional member, Steve Bentley considers the potential for language barriers to create an exposure which results in aviation maintenance errors.


Without Doubt effectiveness and efficiency in communication serves as an important pillar to maintain safety, moreover, aviation professionals have a responsibility to engage with a fully understandable communication process.

Communication enables people, processes, structure and systems, to interact simultaneously and effectively. Communication skills not only include verbal behaviour and effective use of the appropriate words but include the need to ensure the appropriate tone of voice, body expression, as well as other gestures.

Related to the Maintenance environment the fundamental function of communication is to deliver a message from person to person, communication also serves as an enabler related to the delivery or accomplishment of a Maintenance Task.

Throughout the aviation world, there are many aircraft maintenance and other technical staff whose native language is not English and who speak English as a second third or even fourth language! It is an accepted fact that the language of aviation is primarily English, both in operations and in maintenance.

Whilst Certifying Maintenance Staff are expected to achieve a “standard” in Aviation English (although currently this “standard” is not documented.) This requirement does not always apply to mechanics and other staff.

Empirical evidence suggests that language barriers may indeed be causing errors, whether in communication or performance delivery. Even the challenge of moving between different languages can create an exposure which leads to the potential for error.

Note – Essentially an error in language delivery or interpretation is by its nature a communication error.

Due to multiple events and incidents, a considerable amount of Human Factors understanding has been associated with communication in the areas of both aviation maintenance and inspection.

Effectiveness of Communication

It is clearly understood that language barriers can lead to performance errors, this is particularly so in the case that 1 or more of the communicators is a non-native English speaker.

A language error is in actual fact a communication errors (simply by definition).

There are 2 types of primary communication methods within the Aircraft Maintenance Environment:

a) Synchronous communications (Typically verbal and informal) and

b) Asynchronous communication (Typically written and formal).

Precursors to Error Exposure Include

Aviation maintenance is a heavily structured environment with virtually all tasks driven by a documented procedure, often if any disconnect occurs it is due to several factors:

a) Maintenance Staff Inadequate written or verbal English ability (Impacting Performance)

b) Lack of Appreciation related to limited English ability of the person sharing the communication

c) Overly Complex task Instruction – (TASK CARDS)

d) Not fully understanding the information within the aircraft technical documentation

e) Time Pressure (Commercial Pressure)

f) Using the wrong or incorrect information

g) Losing a degree of awareness related to the current situation

h) Miscommunication due to the lack of a shared “Communication Model”

i) Workload

j) Fatigue

k) Individual Personality Behaviour

l) Use of nonstandard phraseology

m) Experience level leading to complacency

Focused Analysis Related to Maintenance Organisation

Considering models of communication.

Communication is defined as “a dynamic and irreversible process by which we engage and interpret messages within a given situation or context. There is an underlying element which reveals the dynamic nature of relationships and organizations”.

Communication can be formal or informal. (Formal communication typically implies that a record is kept of what has been said or written so that it can be related to the initiator.)

Consider that many times on-the-job communication is typically informal and often neither written or recorded.

Written Communication

In General communications in written form can be considered as formal.

Note – Typically formal communication requires a record is kept of what has either been said or written and in this way has an “audit trail” to the originator of the information.

On the Job Communication

On-the-job communication is typically informal, often unwritten, and may even be without words. (sometimes even unspoken.)

Intervention Strategies

The use of Simplified Aviation English

Note – Aviation English vocabulary must form the core of the communication to ensure both efficiency and effectiveness. If the communicators lack specialized vocabulary, they will embrace other strategies to avoid using keywords which of course creates miss-communication exposure.

Sofema Aviation Services and SofemaOnline offer regulatory and vocational training both online and within the classroom environment. For details or enquiries please email or

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