Air advisers create English course for Afghan aviators


Two Afghan Air Force Mi-17 helicopters launch from Jalalabad Airfield, Afghanistan April 12, 2013 in support of an emergency resupply mission. (Air Force photo)

When a lack of English comprehension among Afghan pilots led to hazardous traffic in the skies over Jalalabad, a group of airmen responded by sending the pilots to the classroom.

A group of Air Force Train, Assist, Advice, Command Air Advisors stationed at the base this month created a weeklong aviation English course specifically for Afghan pilots to help them communicate better. In January and February, miscommunication led to 19 hazardous traffic reports at the base.

“[The situation] presented a major collision hazard to the US and NATO helicopters and fixed wing traffic that flows in and out each day,” Capt. Benjamin Sherman, TAAC – Air flight safety advisor, said in an Air Force news release. “So we went there with the knowledge that there was an issue, but we were unsure as to the root cause.”

The Afghan pilots, though skilled aviators, lacked English comprehension, so instructions such as “hold short” or other runway directions were not understood, Sherman said. English is the standard for air traffic control communications, however some pilots learned to fly when it was not enforced, according to the release.

“When everyone understands the plan the controller has and follows the instructions, the traffic flows in and out of the airfield smoothly and efficiently,” Timothy Vanderhost, the Jalalabad airfield manager and air traffic controller, in the release. “But the second you add an aircraft that cannot understand the plan or even communicate to the controller where he is and what he wants to do, the situation gets chaotic.”

Since the group began the week-long class fort the pilots, there have been noticeable changes and increased responses to instructions, according to the Air Force.

“The pilots seem to better understand the controllers, and if they do not, they make the effort to ask the controllers to clarify the instructions, which is great,” Vanderhost said in the release. “This is not a process that will happen overnight of course, but it is a step in the right direction.”


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