All pilots and air traffic controllers should know and understand the language of flight, otherwise known as Aviation English. The language contains around 300 words that are a combination of English and aviation jargon. The purpose is to enable those in aviation to communicate, no matter their country of origin. Learning this language is important because it prevents miscommunication which could lead to a fatal accident.
Here are some common Aviation English terms and their meanings. How many do you recognize?
1. Roger means “message received.” It simply means that the message was clearly understood. Contrary to popular belief, saying Roger isn’t the same as saying “yes.”
2. Affirm is one way to say, “yes” in Aviation English. In popular culture, such as in movies, a pilot might say “affirmative,” but that is incorrect. Affirm is how pilots and air traffic controllers indicate a yes.
3. Wilco is short for “will comply.” This means the message and directions were understood, and the pilot will comply.
4. Final Approach means the aircraft is lined up with the runway and descending to land. It’s acceptable to shorten the term to “final.”
5. Mayday is one term no one wants to hear. It’s a call of distress, used only during potentially fatal emergencies. A pilot must repeat the term three times at the start of the distress radio call. The term Mayday was chosen because it sounds similar to a French word (m’aider) that means help me.
6. Minimum Equipment List (MEL) is a term that indicates a non-essential item on the aircraft is broken. A non-essential item is one that doesn’t affect the safety of the flight.
7. Pan-Pan spoken three times indicates an urgent situation. The situation is urgent but hasn’t reached emergency status. It alerts everyone to a situation that could potentially become life threatening. Like Mayday, the term Pan-Pan originated from a French word. In this case, the word is “panne,” which means breakdown in French.
8. Standby is a shorter way of saying, “please wait.” It’s most often used when a pilot or air traffic controller is temporarily unavailable to accept a message.
The Importance of Communication
There are pilots and air traffic controllers all over the world. And no matter where they are, they all must understand each other. Fatal accidents would occur often if aviation professionals had to wait on translators to sort everything out. There’s simply not enough time. That’s why people in aviation must learn the terms that allow effective communication. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has requirements for language proficiency among pilots and air traffic controllers. They must pass Aviation English tests, which are administered worldwide.