Archive for December 2010

Translation 25. International Air Traffic Control and the Need for Good English

30 December 2010

International air travel is an everyday area of activity where misinterpreting, mistranslating and misunderstanding of language can have serious or tragic consequences.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has finally fixed 11 March 2011 as the date by which international communications between air traffic controllers and foreign aircraft must take place in English, especially in landing and take-off operations. [See here.]

Although it is difficult to find online documented examples of incidents where poor English communication between the control tower and pilots has caused danger or contributed to plane crashes, here are two cases for consideration.

On 25 January 1990, AVIANCA Flight 052 from Medellín (Colombia) to New York crashed near busy JFK Airport after circling in a long queue of aircraft during very bad weather conditions and, finally, running out of fuel. 73 passengers and crew were killed and many of the 85 surviving passengers were seriously injured. Ironically, the survivors owe their lives to the fact that at the crash site there was no outbreak of fire because there was no fuel left to ignite.

According to Wikipedia’s account of the accident and the subsequent inquiry, “The NTSB’s report on the accident determined the cause as pilot error due to the crew never declaring a fuel emergency to air traffic control as per International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines.” However, in the 6th part of a documentary re-enactment (in English) of the fatal journey, it is suggested that, in addition to the very bad weather conditions and the queue of circling aircraft with which traffic controllers had to deal, one of the contributing factors was that the Colombian First Officer used the English word ‘priority’ instead of ‘emergency’ to New York Air Traffic Controllers.

A second example, in which a Russian traffic controller’s English was clearly inadequate in an extended emergency, comes from the Moscow Times of 11 November 2010. This report on new ICAO regulations on the use of English contains an online link to an 8-minute “You Tube” audio recording of the embarrassing misunderstandings by the Russian air traffic controller of a Mayday call from a Swiss pilot following a “bird strike” on takeoff. (The initial crucial word not understood was “Mayday”.)

The article is written by Oksana Gavshina, Anastasia Dagaveya, and Vladimir Filonov.

English Language to Rule Skies

“Pilots and air traffic controllers at airports serving international flights will only speak English starting in March.

Russian pilots and air traffic controllers at the country’s international airports will be required to conduct all conversations in English starting in March 2011, and the practice could eventually be extended to domestic flights.

English could become the only language for communication between traffic controllers and pilots for non-military Russian flights, said Alexander Neradko, head of the Federal Air Transportation Agency.
Currently, both Russian and English are used for radio communication at the country’s international airports, while the rest only use Russian.

Neradko said it was difficult for dispatchers to accept incoming flights in two languages, posing a safety risk. The conversations are held on one frequency, meaning that they are heard by all pilots, who need to know what nearby planes are doing, he said.

In March, all international airports will switch to English. At the same time, pilots and staff will be required to demonstrate Level 4 conversational skills according to the six-level scale of the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO.

The organization had planned to introduce that requirement in 2008, but a three-year delay was requested for several countries, including Russia, to train pilots and flight control staff.

In Russia, knowledge of “radio-exchange terminology,” a standard set of commands and phrases, is all that is needed now, Neradko said.
The new ICAO standards would require a knowledge of English comparable to that of graduates from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, he said, adding that companies were ready to make the change.

Level 4 under the ICAO system is roughly equivalent to the knowledge of a high school student who scores a B- or C+ in English, said Sergei Melnichenko, deputy head of the language school Kompleng, which has a program for aviation professionals.

The current level is adequate for standard flights, he said. But in an emergency, more fluency is needed to give advice and make quick decisions, requiring at least Level 4 knowledge, Melnichenko said.

In March, a Swiss Air flight taking off from St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport struck a flock of birds, causing vibrations in both engines and forcing the pilots to issue a Mayday signal. The air traffic controller was unable to understand the problem for several minutes until a pilot on another plane explained the situation in Russian.

An eight-minute audio recording of the incident, including further miscommunication once the plane had safely landed, was eventually posted online. Aviation officials have confirmed its authenticity.” [The article continues.]

Translation. 24. Translating a Résumé into Chinese: Jesse Newman’s Experience

5 December 2010

In The Australian of 4 December 2010, Jesse Newman shared his experiences in getting his résumé translated into Chinese:

‘Skills lost in Translation of a Resume’.
(Sub-heading) ‘Writing a Chinese version of your CV can be an exercise in disguise’

“As a mid-20s professional I have decided to jump into a bigger pond. In the past two weeks I’ve had the surreal experience of having my CV translated into Chinese.

“My English-language resume is a heady blend of white spaces, bold-faced key performance indicator achievements and independent project management positions. It’s a long document — six pages — designed to convey all key information in a glance at the front page. The rest is available for reading should I get to the interview stage. Education details and direct benefits to employers are set out upfront.

“I roped in Chinese friends with experience in the Australian and Chinese job markets, seeking help to move my shining document in all its glory into Chinese. Unfortunately my first draft hit some challenges.”

For the rest of Jesse’s article (and a photograph), see his original version in The Australian.

The Cancún Conference Brings Further Pollution to an Over-stressed Resort

1 December 2010

“The tropical storm season lasts from May to December, the rainy season extends into January with peak precipitation in September. February to early May tend to be drier with only occasional scattered showers. Cancún is located in one of the main Caribbean hurricane impact areas.” (Wikipedia)

Following the Copenhagen fiasco a year ago, the upmarket resort of Cancún was chosen as the next venue for the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

The Conference has just begun in the Mexican resort of Cancún, on the Yucatán Peninsula. So far the news media have not shown much interest but doubtless this situation will change as the 12-day conference progresses. We are told that modest agreements are likely. Fine. But if you look at the history of Cancún, and if you are not a pampered participant, you may be amazed and perhaps a little upset that the organisers chose this developmentally challenged resort to hold its conference and to further contaminate with the effusions and effluent of its estimated 25,000 attendees.

Cancún, a virtually deserted tropical island, with its storm season lasting from May to December, was decreed as a resort development area by the dictatorial Mexican PRI government in 1970 as part of its ultimately very profitable tourist development strategy. The government provided the infrastructure and financed many of the hotels which sprang up. It became very popular, especially with vacationers from USA and Europe. Today the population is 700,000 but, as we shall see below, in the past 40 years the island has suffered severely from overdevelopment and faulty planning as well as from 2 disastrous (but predictable) tropical hurricanes, in 1988 and 2005.

“The unchecked development of Cancun has considerably
contaminated its lagoon in the west. Parts of the lagoon have been
destroyed to make room for a major highway systems. In addition,
new strains of vegetation species have appeared which can not be
cultivated in the indigenous environment. This vegetation often
washes onto the road producing foul smells which negatively affect
tourist perceptions. A nearby rainforest has lost some 60,000
hectares simply as a result of the development plans. The erection
of hotels and restaurants not only destroys wildlife in the rainforests
but hotel owners are also forced to import exotic plants to replace
those which they have carelessly destroyed. It is also apparent that
in the areas where hotels were constructed, the surrounding environment suffered far more environmental damage during Hurricane Gilbert than those areas that were preserved in their natural state.

“The construction of 120 hotels in 20 years has also endangered
breeding areas for marine turtles, as well as causing large numbers
of fish and shellfish to be depleted or disappear just offshore. In order
to prevent further environmental destruction many Mexican conservation groups have lobbied the Mexican government to regulate the development of Cancun and other tourist hot spots.”
(From a 1990s “TED” report. This was part of the Mandala Projects of the American University.)

On a more scientific level, the report by Peter V. Wiese (‘Environmental Impact of Urban and Industrial Development. A Case History: Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico) is also well worth reading.