Lost in translation | delhi | Hindustan Times
Today in New Delhi, India
May 30, 2017-Tuesday
-°C
New Delhi
  • Humidity
    -
  • Wind
    -

Lost in translation

The air force's plans to hold its first-ever joint exercises with the Chinese air force have hit turbulence. The hiccup: language barriers. Rahul Singh reports.

delhi Updated: Aug 17, 2010 02:18 IST
Rahul Singh

The air force's plans to hold its first-ever joint exercises with the Chinese air force have hit turbulence. The hiccup: language barriers.

Plans may be afoot to conduct joint exercises with China's People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) in 2012, but top air force officers fear not knowing each other's language could be fatal in the skies.

A senior air force officer said, "Finding a way around language barriers is crucial if we have to conduct joint air maneouvres with China. It is a huge hurdle."

He said English might be the international language of aviation but Chinese fighter pilots speak little or even no English. Hardly a tenth of China's pilots, many of who are ex-Chinese air force, meet international aviation English standards.

The problem of lack of proficiency in English would only be worsened by variations in accents and dialects, causing calls to be misinterpreted.

Air force Vice Chief Air Marshal P K Barbora told HT, "Fighter pilots carry out close maneouvres during such exercises. Not understanding each other can be dangerous for flight safety."

The air force has gone into a huddle to figure out how the language barriers can be overcome for the exercises to materialise. The drill is expected to offer Indian fighter pilots insights into the PLAAF's rising capabilities.

New additions to the Chinese air force include Sukhoi-30 MKK fighters bought from Russia, J-10 fighters and JF-17 Thunder jets.

It is also pushing full steam ahead with the induction airborne early warning aircraft and midair refuellers to expand the operating radius of its fighters.

Here's how dangerous miscommunication can be: In 1993, Chinese pilots flying a US-made MD-80 were attempting to land in heavy fog at Urumqi in northwest China.

They were flummoxed by an audio alarm from the plane's ground proximity warning system.

Just before impact, the cockpit voice recorder picked up one crewmember asking another in Chinese: "What does 'pull up' mean?"