Considering the Potential for Errors in the Use of Aviation English in the Maintenance Environment

Sofema Aviation Services looks at the potential for language barriers to result in aviation maintenance errors.


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.

Moreover, whilst Certifying Maintenance Staff is 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.

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.

Basic Communication Disconnects

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 one of 3 factors:

a) Using the wrong or incorrect information

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

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

Considering Precursors for Communication Disconnects

a) Workload,

b) Fatigue,

c) Individual Personality Behaviour,

d) Use of nonstandard phraseology,

e) Experience level leading to complacency.

Communication Methodologies typically found in Aviation Maintenance

  • synchronous communications (largely verbal and informal) and
  • asynchronous communication (largely written and formal).

Note – asynchronous communication has the least opportunity for recovery mechanisms? – Why is this?

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.

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