Controlling the Skies in English
Controlling the Skies in English
Controlling the Skies in English
The English language took over the IAF Northern Control Unit in a special “English Day”. The goal: To improve communication between the IAF and international teams
Shachar Zorani | Translation: Eden Sharon

Aiming to improve the communication skills between the Israeli controllers and foreign controllers, the soldiers of the IAF Northern Control Unit set Hebrew aside and spoke only English for an entire day. The designated day was named “English Pluto” – Pluto being the frequency used by civil aircraft as well as the Control Unit. “We hold an English day twice every six months”, said Lieutenant Roee, a Controllers Training Officer. “We sometimes deal with UN planes which patrol the border or other civilian aircraft. We must know how to communicate with them in order to manage the airspace and get the aircraft safe to their destination”.

Israeli airspace is both highly limited and, crowded Israeli airspace, and due to the many threats on the country, most of the airspace is used for security purposes by the IDF and the IAF. It is the Control Units that are in charge of managing the airspace and coordinating between the civil and military aircraft. They must direct every aircraft from the moment of takeoff until safe landing, a task which requires a high level of cooperation, and that begins and ends with clear communication.

The Goal: Preventing Aviation Accidents
Learning and practicing English in the Control Unit took on added importance when it was discovered that most of the aviation accidents in 2008 were a result of miscommunication in English. The International Civil Aviation Organization consequently determined that every person who uses a radiotelephone must pass an English test. “Since the controllers also speak with foreign pilots it is important that they know how to communicate in English, according to the accepted practice. They must possess the relevant vocabulary and the ability to properly pronounce the terms”, explained Dafna Shalev, a teacher for Aviation English. “Most of mistakes come from misunderstanding the context, like confusing ‘Two’ for ‘To'”.

Procedure provides that one plane in the airspace is enough to obligate switching into English, so that all involved will be able to understand the aerial picture. This procedure can only be overruled in the case of a safety hazard. “When the teams switch to English, the work becomes more challenging”, said Lieutenant Roee. “The communication is slowed down, you must decide what you want to say and translate it and sometimes it is also hard to understand to other side. That is why we practice”.

Back to Basics
“English Pluto”, which included workshops and simulations, was held as part of the unit’s “Foundations Week”, during which the soldiers and reservists were introduced with diverse contents designed to refresh their knowledge, maintain competency, and improve everyday operation. The teams rehearsed prowords procedures and investigated different cases from which they then drew conclusions. “The purpose of the week was to dive into the controlling world and to practice the three basic rules: pointing out the aircraft, making sure the aircraft path and immediate area are clear, and communicating and coordinating all the aircraft in the air”, said Lieutenant Roee. “The week took us back to basics and reminded us how to be both better and safer”.