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The language of the skies – Pilot lingo

A few days ago, I noticed an article about pilot language. All pilots must know this language as well as those listening down in the air control facilities.

It never dawned on me until I read this that pilots must know these 300 words in English. Or Aviation English, to give it a correct name. Normally when I’m on a plane, I’m travelling to or from the UK, so I expect my pilot to have a decent grasp of English.

Some of the lingo isn’t something you hear in everyday English conversations either, but it is designed so that whether you are in the cockpit or in the air control station below you completely understand what is being said. There’s no ‘there, they’re and their’ to worry about! If air controllers and pilots were to misunderstand each other, the result could be disastrous. This language is to help avoid potentially fatal accidents from taking place.

Language confusion is thought to have created the deadliest plane disaster in aviation history. In 1977 two planes collided due to a lack of communication and bad weather which affected the control towers ability to see the collision in advance. 583 people died from this event. Since then, it was decided to have a universal language and approved terms so miscommunication could become a thing of the past.

Since the rules were changed and Aviation English was introduced there have been a dramatic decrease of misunderstanding between pilots and control centres on the ground.


Here’s some examples of Aviation English:

Affirm – Yes (pronounced AY-firm)

Approach- coming into land

Deadhead – airline crew travelling in a passenger seat

Overhead- the airspace directly above an airfield/ airport

Mayday – Actually comes from the French term m’aidez (help me). Pilots must say Mayday three times at the start of a radio call if in trouble

MEL (Minimum Equipment List) – Means an aircraft appliance is broken but is not needed to safely fly (such as a coffee machine)

Pan-pan – Emergency, but not as severe as Mayday

Roger – means message received

Squawk- set your transponder so you can be identified on radar

Standby- Please wait

Wilco – abbreviation of ‘will comply’


Since the rules were changed and Aviation English was introduced there have been a dramatic decrease of misunderstanding between pilots and control centres on the ground. Hurrah for language!

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