ERAU Investigates Language As Safety Issue

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Students at ERAU learn "English for VFR."

The impact of misunderstandings between pilots and air traffic controllers due to language differences has been underestimated as a contributing factor in accidents, researchers from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University said this week. Elizabeth Mathews, an ERAU professor and linguistics expert, said language issues in aviation are not investigated as thoroughly as other factors. “While communication is universally acknowledged to be critical to aviation safety, industry understanding of communication and language as fundamental aspects of aviation safety has not kept pace with our understanding of other human performance factors,” Mathews said.

Mathews is part of a team at ERAU’s Daytona Beach and Worldwide campuses who are combing through global databases of aircraft accidents to determine the role communication deficiencies may have played. “Embry-Riddle hopes to provide an organizational focus to support human factors specialists, accident investigators and safety experts to better consider communication and language factors,” Matthews said. “The goal is to improve aviation safety by heightening industry awareness of the threats posed by language issues in aviation.” The researchers have published a bibliography on the topic, and have created three new courses at their Daytona Beach campus that address language issues in aviation safety.

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