Le monde – La sécurité aérienne menacée par l’usage de l’anglais. (Texte anglais)

Lettre ouverte, en anglais, d’un citoyen des états-Unis outré par l’article
«The triumph of English», publié par The Economist

The Economist

You repeatedly publish articles like THE TRIUMPH OF ENGLISH, A WORLD
EMPIRE BY OTHER MEANS, 20 December 2001. Why this psychic need for
self-praise? The prediction that half the world will be able to use
English in some way by 2050 is just plain silly, if only because of the
immense barriers to learning it.

If cleverness could accomplish anything, your article would win a prize.
But nimble wording serves only to distract from a sad truth. It is that
English is – in the eyes of history – only a momentary detour on humanitiy’s
path toward better communication. Yes, at the moment the 38 dialects of
English manage to clog up many of the world’s channels of expression. So what?

English was designated for international civil aviation in 1951 by raw
political force, and not by proven communicative merit. Its linguistic
defects such as muddled pronunciation and ambiguity have contributed to
numerous aircraft crashes. (See below.) Now, half a century later, we
still don’t have an aviation language which is as well engineered as an
ordinary fuel pump. English has been a 50-year detour blocking improvement to
aviation safety.

Will it be a triumph of English if a copy of The Economist is found in
the debris field of the next crash of a passenger plane?

Kent Jones
5048 N. Marine, D6, Chicago 60640

These are historical examples where one link in the chain of events
leading to tragedy was miscommunication.

1971, Alaska. 111 died. There was misleading navigational information.
1972, Florida.101 died. The ATC made a non-standard query..
1976, Zagreb. 176 died. Languge errors were made by the ATC.
1977, Tenerife. 583 died. Dutch pilot used English words according to Dutch language.
1981, California. 34 injured. Confusion over the meanngof HOLD.
1980, Tenerife. 146 died. Confusion between TURNS LEFT and TURN LEFT.
1981, Corsica. 180 died. Ambiguous language. Hit high ground.
1983, Madrid. 169 died. Wrong communication procedure.
1984, Virginia. 93 died. Confusion about clearance.
1986, East Berlin. 72 died. confusion between right and left.
1989, Azores. 144 died. Communication error with tower.
1989, Surinam. Pilot ignored tower instructions. This could be due to language mismatch.
1990, New York. 75 died. Copilot used wrong message about fuel shortage.
1993, China. 16 died. Pilot didn’t understand English warning of ground proximity.
1994, Japan. 264 died. Chinese pilot, autopilot with English instructions.
1995, Colombia. 159 died. Confusion between charts and flight management
system, similarity of beacon names ROSO and ROMEO, controller’s
inability to speak conversational English.
1996, India. 349 died. Midair collision. Three native languages involved: Hindi, Arabic, Kazakh.
1997, Seattle. No deaths. Russian pilot couldn’t speak with controller,
began to land on a city street. A similar event also occurred in 1999 in Israel.
1998, Taiwan. 202 died. Blame placed on communication, coordination, cooperation.
1999, Chicago. No deaths. Chinese 747 misunderstood taxi directions, got in
front of another 747 taking off. The latter alertly lifted his wing and
averted a bloody collision.
1999, Shanghai. 8 died. Korean pilot, Chinese controller.
1999, Ecuador. No deaths. A 727 with 110 passengers at wrong airport with too
short a runway. Barely got airborne again soon enough. Going to the wrong
airport is self-evident miscommunication.
1999, New York. No deaths. Near collision. Three languages: Icelandic, French, English.
1999, England. No deaths. Near collision, Korean and British 747’s.
1999, Kosovo. 24 died. Italian pilot of this UN flight told controller he
couldn’t understand computer generated English, presumably a ground proximity alarm.
1999, L.A. No deaths. Aermexico runway incursion into path of a departing 757
with 133 aboard. 757 lifted off early.
2000, Taiwan. 82 died. Singaore Airlines 747 misunderstood, used runway
6Right instead of 6Left, and collided with construction site.
2000, Chicago. No deaths. A London-bound aircraft took off from a runway
which had been reported closed due to electrcal repairs.
2001, Japan. No deaths. Two Japan Airliners at 36,000 feet missed each other
by only 33 feet, due to a confusing exchange of instructions from
controllers. 700 might have died.
2001, Paris. 1 died. One plane was guided in English, one in French.
2001, Peru. 2 died. Missionary plane shot down in Spanish – English confusion.
2001, Milan. 118 died. German pilot, Italian controller. Into path of a SAS taking off.
2001, Seattle. No deaths. A TWA MD-80 flew over an American Airlines MD-80,
missing it by an estimated 60 feet. The tower local controller had cleared
TWA for takeoff from runway 16L and instructed American Airlines to hold
short of the runway. However, the flight crew misunderstood the
and crossed 16L.
(Le 12 mars 2002)