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Fatal Words: Communication Clashes and Aircraft Crashes

Overview

On March 27, 1977, 583 people died when KLM and Pan Am 747s collided on a crowded, foggy runway in Tenerife, the Canary Islands. The cause, a miscommunication between a pilot and an air traffic controller. The pilot radioed, "We are now at takeoff," meaning that the plane was lifting off, but the tower controller misunderstood and thought the plane was waiting on the runway. In Fatal Words, Steven Cushing explains how miscommunication has led to dozens of aircraft disasters, and he proposes innovative solutions ...
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Overview

On March 27, 1977, 583 people died when KLM and Pan Am 747s collided on a crowded, foggy runway in Tenerife, the Canary Islands. The cause, a miscommunication between a pilot and an air traffic controller. The pilot radioed, "We are now at takeoff," meaning that the plane was lifting off, but the tower controller misunderstood and thought the plane was waiting on the runway. In Fatal Words, Steven Cushing explains how miscommunication has led to dozens of aircraft disasters, and he proposes innovative solutions for preventing them. Cushing examines ambiguities in language and other causes of miscommunication between pilots and air traffic controllers. He looks at instances when a pilot or tower controller slips from technical aviation jargon into colloquial English, when a pilot inadvertently "tunes out" repeated instructions, when radios are misused, when a word is used that has different meanings, and when different words are used that sound alike. For example, he shows how a confusion involving to and two led to a fatal crash at a Southeast Asian airport. To remedy these problems Cushing proposes, for the short term, a visual communication system to supplement voice communication, one that would include a visual touchscreen interface. The technical details of a visual touchscreen prototype are included in an appendix. For the longer term, Cushing outlines an intelligent voice interface to filter conversations for potential confusions and provide real-time feedback to help clear up confusing language. Fatal Words is an accessible explanation of some of the most notorious aircraft tragedies of our time, and it will appeal to scholars in communications, linguistics, and cognitive science, to aviation experts, and to general readers.
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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Examines how ambiguities in language and other causes of miscommunication between pilots and air traffic controllers have led to dozens of aircraft disasters, and recommends immediate, short-term, and long-term solutions to preventing them. Indexed by problematic phrase as well as subject. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226132013
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/1997
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 552,253
  • Product dimensions: 5.51 (w) x 8.52 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Language and Aviation Safety 1
Pt. I Language-Based Communication Problems
1 Problems of Language 7
2 Problems of Reference 17
3 Problems of Inference 24
4 Problems Involving Repetition 38
Pt. II Communication Problems Not Based on Language
5 Problems with Numbers 51
6 Problems with Radios 63
7 Problems of Compliance 71
8 General Problems 81
Pt. III Potential Solutions
9 Immediate Fixes 89
10 A Long-Term Solution: An Intelligent Voice Interface for Aviation Communication 91
11 A Shorter-Term Solution: An Error-Resistant Visual Interface for Aviation Communication 98
Appendix: The Aviation Interface Research (AIR) System: Technical Description 111
Notes 145
Glossary: Standard Contractions Used in the Examples 157
Index of Subjects 159
Index of Problematic Phrases 161
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