Many Aviation Accidents Are the Result of Miscommunication

pilot talking to air traffic controller on radioIt may seem ridiculous, but many aviation injuries occur simply because airline staff members cannot work together. While this includes conflicts between flight crew members, it can also be a disconnect between those in the air and workers on the ground. Pilots receive most of their instructions through auditory communication from air traffic controllers, and these verbal messages can be forgotten, misinterpreted, or even never heard at all.

Miscommunication Linked to Airplane Accident Injuries and Deaths

According to one study, communication failures have contributed to the deaths of more than 2,000 people in plane crashes since the mid-1970s. While airlines are responsible for ensuring that their pilots and crews are adequately trained, many have made simple mistakes that can lead to passenger injuries.

An experienced aviation accident attorney can determine whether your injury was caused by:

  • Language barriers. The words and inflection used between pilots and flight controllers are critical in communicating potential problems. English speakers in the aviation industry are particularly likely to cause misunderstandings when speaking to non-native English speaking pilots, crew, or air traffic control. For example, a pilot mentioning that the plane is “running low on fuel" without using an international distress signal may be interpreted as a mere concern and not an emergency situation.
  • Incorrect terminology. The misuse of standardized phrases and terms can not only cause confusion, but it can also cause fatal injuries. For instance, replacing "inbound" with “outbound,” using "no" instead of "negative" or "yes" instead of "affirmative" can start a chain reaction that leads to runway incursions or near-misses.
  • Number confusion. Numbers are one of the biggest sources of communication problems between pilots and air traffic controllers, especially the homophones “two” and “to” and “four” and “for.” Studies have also shown that pilots have difficulty interpreting messages with several zeros, especially if multiple instructions are given in one transmission. Since numbers can be used in many different flight parameters—including headings, airspeeds, altitudes, flight numbers, and call signs—it is vital that messages are clarified before actions are taken.
  • Ambiguous phrasing. Simple misunderstandings can have dire consequences at 25,000 feet. One miscommunication incident involved a flight attendant asking the flight deck to “turn around” because the cabin door was open and needed closing. However, the captain interpreted these two words to mean the plane was in jeopardy and turned the airplane back toward the departure airport.
  • Failure to confirm. Accidents often occur when a pilot incorrectly reads back instructions, and the controller doesn’t hear the error. A controller’s transmission of “two-two-four” may become garbled or have static at either end of the message—and could be heard as “to two-four.” Controllers may also be too busy to acknowledge a pilot’s readback, leaving pilots to misinterpret this silence as confirmation.
  • Untimely transmissions. Controllers who fail to catch and correct mistakes early may have to make last-minute adjustments to an altitude or flight path. Unfortunately, vital messages may be relayed too late for pilots to take proper evasive action.
  • Equipment and technology problems. While some advances have allowed text transmission between planes and ground crews, radio remains the primary means of communication between air traffic controllers and pilots. Any problems with electrical systems, power sources, microphones, and speakers, or digital communication programs can block effective communication.

If you or someone you love has been injured in an airplane accident, it is vital to speak to an attorney to determine who may be held liable. At GriffithLaw, we can advise you on your options and get you the compensation you need for an airline injury—and we do not collect any legal fees unless we recover for you. Simply fill out the short contact form on this page to set up your no-cost injury consultation, or learn more about your rights in our free guide, The 10 Worst Mistakes You Can Make With Your Tennessee Injury Case.