130 Pilots Grounded Because They Cannot Speak English

Over 130 pilots have been grounded in French-speaking Switzerland after the country decided to make almost all pilots speak English only.

Last month, Switzerland introduced the rule that pilots can only communicate with air traffic control in English, even though many pilots based at Swiss regional airports only speak French or German.

The airports of Sion, Payerne, Bern-Belp, Grenchen, Emmen, Duebendorf, Buochs, Alpnach-Kaegiswil, Meiringen, St Gallen-Altenrhein and Samedan have now become fully English-speaking airports.

Credit: CEN
Two small aeroplanes at Sion Airport

Meanwhile, the use of French and German in the airspace was outlawed by the Swiss regulatory authorities, according to reports.

The new measure is said to heavily impact Switzerland’s French-speaking region. Already at Sion Airport in the Rhone Valley of the Canton of Valais, 130 hobbyist pilots have been grounded as they do not have an English air traffic control communication licence.

Jean-Yves Bonvin, president of the Valais Air Club, said that schooling pilots will prove to be a difficult task.

He said: “In Switzerland, language test requirements are much higher compared to other countries.”

Bonvin said that the authorities “have created a problem where there wasn’t one”, adding that he cannot understand why some airports, like those in Geneva and Lugano, are allowed to remain bilingual.

French-speaking pilots have since formed a group called ‘No English Only’ to fight the law in court.

However, there is also opposition in the German-speaking parts of the country.

Credit: CEN
A private aeroplane at Sion Airport

One daily newspaper reported that German pilots do not understand why they have to say “Roger that” instead of the German “Verschtande” when affirming orders from air traffic control.

Only the airports of Locarno and Lugano-Agno remain bilingual (Italian-English) and the three airports in Geneva kept their French-English dual status due to the fact that they are controlled from France and the authorities there do not accept ‘English only’.

The country’s main airport in Zurich already had the status of being ‘English only’.

With the introduction of the measure, which was a result of a safety recommendation from the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) and the Civil Aviation Safety Office (CASO), the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (Bazl) hopes to reduce the risk of air traffic control misunderstandings in the trilingual country.

A Bazl spokesperson said: “The ‘English only’ standardisation reduces the risk of linguistic misunderstandings.”

Credit: CEN
A Helvetic Airways passenger plane at Sion Airport

According to Bazl, there have been many avoidable accidents caused by miscommunication over the years.

The spokesperson said: “The Crossair crash in January 2000 is just one of many worldwide.”

Crossair flight 498 from Zurich to Dresden crashed shortly after takeoff, killing seven passengers and three crew members.

Language problems between the Moldovan captain and the Slovakian first officer were among the reasons investigators listed as the main cause of the crash.

It was not reported how many pilots have been grounded at other airports in Switzerland.

To find out more about the author, editor or agency that supplied this story – please click below.
Story By: Koen BerghuisSub-EditorJoseph Golder, Agency: Central European News

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