China Eastern Pilot Uses the Perfect English Description When Declaring an Emergency Landing

Aviation English is the universal language for air traffic control. Pilots and air traffic controllers are supposed to have a minimum level of proficiency.

Now, air traffic controllers and pilots within a specific non-English speaking country like Mexico will generally speak their native language even though they can communicate in English. Most flights in Mexico are handled in Spanish though they’ll switch to English for an English speaker. (This isn’t universally true as air traffic control will be handled largely in English in India for instance.)

One criticism of the dual language approach is that while an air traffic controller and pilot will understand each other, other pilots lose some degree of situational awareness if they do not understand the conversation. (Here’s one incident where “use of two languages for radio communications” led one crew to be unaware that another aircraft was about to take off.)

On the other hand, even conducting air traffic control entirely in English doesn’t generate total understanding either because of local dialect (failing to conform to formal Aviation English) or because of insufficient proficiency. Aviation English requires use of very specific words.

Poor communication has led to major incidents even apart from language barriers.

On the other hand, non-native English speakers are sometimes just more direct such as this China Eastern pilot returning to Sydney upon discovering that his aircraft had a major hole in its engine cowling on the port side. (HT: Live and Let’s Fly)

The China Eastern pilot simply described his engine number one as being “fooked.” Or perhaps he said ‘fault’ by I certainly prefer to think it’s the former.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Are you imagining things just to make a good headline? The pilot very clearly said “Engine number 1 fault”.

  2. It is pretty clear to me that he said ‘Engine #1 fault’. Unless your ears are fooked.

  3. As a native Mandarin speaker living in the US since I was 7, I’m pretty sure the pilot said “fault”, albeit with a bit of Chinese accent, but that was “fault” without any doubt.

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