Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Unfair Fight ATC

Here's an update with the ATC dialogue during the incident. There's not a whole lot of information to hear. ATC uses the designation "Super" for the Air France A380, a step up from "Heavy" The Airbus is taxiing, apparently according to instructions from a perky, alert-sounding controller, when the Delta pilot calls in languidly to report that he's just been hit by the Air France. The controller immediately dispatches emergency equipment and asks the CRJ pilot if he needs any specific assistance.

I think some of the transmissions from the CRJ are not on the tape, and obviously we're missing a lot of dialogue inside the control tower as they decide which taxiways to shut down and how to reroute traffic. The controller asks the Air France to "shut your engines" and the pilot asks to confirm "close the engines?" Neither is normal English usage, but it's clear. I'm curious as to whether the controller was using an official phrase, or was used to French Québecois crews translating "fermer le moteur" directly into English and used that phrase for Air France. There's no indication that the Air France pilots are having any difficulty understanding normal English, they just have fantastically French accents. Update: See the comment conversation between myself and Ghislain for more about this. It appears that the Air France pilot actually says "hold the engines?" (not "close") and doesn't understand the "shut" instruction, because that does not correspond to the idiom in France.

I'm slightly amused that the offer of assistance for the A380 comes almost as an afterthought. I'm reminded of Hamish versus the MD-80. Did one Airbus pilot ask the other if he felt a bump?


Anonymous said...

I hope everyone was OK, and I also hope that passengers who regularly unfasten their seatbelts before the sign is turned off are paying attention to this!

Ghislain said...

I understand you're interested in linguistics, so: "fermer le moteur" is not French, it should rather be "éteindre le moteur" (turn off the engine). And I think the French crew asked "hold the engine, confirm?" (direct translation of "garder le moteur", i.e. "keep the engine running").

Aviatrix said...

Well, Ghislan, "shut the engine" is not English, but ATC-speak often isn't. It does look from Google as though éteindre le moteur is more common in France, but fermer le moteur isn't uncommon in Canada, e.g. this anti-idling campaign.

I think you're right that he says "hold the engine, confirm?" not "close," which implies that he didn't understand "shut your engines" the first time.

Ghislain said...

You're right, "fermer le moteur" seems to be used in Canada. But I have never heard that expression in France and it would sound really weird to me.

Aviatrix said...

I'm not surprised that words having to do with engines are different in Québecois French, seeing as they came into use after Québec was settled. I wonder had the Air France crew been in Montréal if they would have had to ask the same confirming question of a controller who gave them the shtdown instruction in French!

Est-ce qu'on ferme la lumière et le télé en France?

Ghislain said...

On ferme la lumière, mais pas la télé. There's no logic in there ;-)

I think communication can sometimes be difficult between people from Québec and people from France. One of my colleagues here in the US is from Québec, and I actually prefer speaking English to him, although French is my native language.

Nice blog, btw. Good luck for your job search!