Nose gear pizzazz


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Guys! You didn’t have to go through this just to get me to write again! I’m kidding, of course, what I mean is that this event has been relevant enough to make me find some time to post on the blog. Yay!

I’m referring to the precautionary landing made by a TAM A330 last September 26 at JFK International Airport, in New York City. As they were approaching, pilots received indication that their nose wheel steering might not be fully functional, so they decided to go around and run some checks, after which they attempted a second approach. This time, the tower informed them that their nose wheel seemed to be cocked at a 90º angle. Even so, they decided to land, which they did without any problem, as the nose wheel just realigned by itself.

I received the audio recording of the exchange between pilots and ATC almost immediately after the fact, and since then I’ve been asked by various students to confirm that the pilots in question “speak bad English”. I wouldn’t say that.

After all, they were able to make themselves understood by several American controllers, and managed to sort out the problem relatively smoothly. Some mistakes were made, but none of them really affected the communication. Obviously, the Brazilian pilots have a… guess what? A Brazilian accent! (No?! Really?!) That’s not an issue according to the ICAO guidelines, although I have to confess that this is what surprised me the most, being that Brazilian English proficiency examiners tend to be quite prejudiced against their own accent, sometimes issuing candidates a 3 in Pronunciation, when in fact what they have is a regional accent, being totally intelligible nonetheless.

Having said that, we can certainly use this event to help us develop our own linguistic skills, why not? So, I do have a few pointers for students:

1. If you listen to the recording, you will notice that at some points the pilots hesitate and include meaningless pauses in between words. As seen on the ICAO Language Proficiency Rating Scale, in Fluency, pauses and hesitation may hinder effective communication. My suggestion is: as much as possible, think first and then speak. Take a few seconds to prepare yourself before starting your exchange, to avoid these unnecessary pauses, as they might make your message less clear to the interlocutor.

2. Work on your communicative strategies. You will also notice that the Brazilian pilots kept using the terms “maintain the runway” to mean that they would probably have to stay on the runway after landing, that they wouldn’t be able to clear it by themselves without assistance. At one point, a controller urges them to confirm this information, and he clearly says “understand you’re gonna stay on the runway, is that correct?”. Even after this intervention, all the other pilots keep using “maintain the runway“. My tip is: adopt words used by your interlocutor, because they are part of their repertoire, thus have a better chance of being understood.

That’s it, basically, although I’ve been giving my students more specific pointers as we listen to the recording together in class. It’s a very rich material, there’s a lot of useful vocabulary, besides being a wonderful listening comprehension piece.

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Now, just to illustrate it, here are more resources on the topic, so you can polish your reading and listening skills:

A news video on the subject

The audio recording

The incident as reported by The Aviation Herald

A video on investigations on Airbus landing gear

The report and video of the 2005 similar incident with JetBlue A320

Did you have any trouble understanding any of the texts/ videos? Book some classes!

5 Comments

Filed under News, tips

5 responses to “Nose gear pizzazz

  1. Mmd

    Dear,

    Wonderfully written text on your come back!

    I totally agree with you about the way examiners should deal with this matter of what is really real and pertinent to communicate on board.

    About the hesitation, considering my point of view and observing daily events, it happens even when pilots are using their native idiom and a bad day starts to happen. Pilots in general tend to hesitate their outside communication when emergency arises. To keep up a high level of situational awareness we should follow a logical sequence to solve a problem which is to fly, navigate and for last to communicate (to outside world not onboard ).
    Pilots tend to speak as brief as possible ( at least most of ) and some situations are really hard to be briefly described, for its complexity or rarity . It is really hard to find the right words.

    I once heard a flag carrier declaring an emergency in a south american country ( despite the accent the message was very clear) and the flight controller clearly did not get it at all .
    His intentions of diverting lead by a medical big issue on board were misunderstood with a “fly to” request which was wrongly denied.
    We could heard the crew trying to explain the request using synonyms, speaking slower and changing interlocutors. Even another compatriot pilot listened and tried to help. The flight controller just could not understand a simple request leading the crew to believe they were expressing themselves the wrong way, which they did not.
    The flight controller was replaced then again his replacement unsuccessfully understood the fact. We and other pilots explained the situation and just after that the second flight controller did the right thing using a very elementary english.

    Thankfully everything went all right.

    Common expressions such as standard read backs or reports are repetitive and similar. Those are often heard without hesitation. In stress like situations people tend to think and talk as simple as possible to solve the problem efficiently. I believe this might lead non natives of english to hesitate even more in a situation like that .
    Then again I agree 110% about writing at least a simple written guidance to north your words before jamming a frequency or mislead a flight controller or surrounding traffics. What was supposed to help might create a bigger problem adding another weight to carry when none should be taken.

    You are the best dear

  2. Vanildo Maldi

    Hello:
    Regarding the TAM nose gear failure incident, please do NOT forget that they were in an stress situation…
    Listen to the tape one can clearly observe that the crew members were understanding what the controllers said. They fail ( the crew members) to choose the rights words when answering in some dialogues. It happens sometimes with all of us.
    HINT: Always “search” quicjky for a synonym of the word you have just forgotten…do not try to remember that word for more than 3 seconds !!!

    • You’re right, Vanildo, stress can definitely affect our abilities, bringing them down to their lowest level. That’s why the ICAo proficiency grade isn’t made up of an average of the grades in each criterium, but it’s the lowest the pilot was able to get.

      Oh, and good hint!

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