Common aeronautical language …c’est la vie


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English is known to be the language of the skies, but do you know why and what this entails for pilots and air traffic controllers? Learn how language proficiency requirements contribute to aviation safety.’

ICAO Statment 

An accident waiting to happen?… It already has!

Recently ICAO (International Civil Aviation Authority) considered it necessary to publish a statement;

 “For pilots and air traffic controllers to communicate clearly and efficiently around the world, a universal aviation language had to be established.” 

Most are aware that the common language used within aviation is English. Indeed at major airports around the globe, the only language spoken between air traffic control (ATC) and pilots is English.

The reason is simple, safety.  

As the ICAO publication states, “Since miscommunication and language barriers are human errors that could gravely impact flight safety and put those on board at risk, ICAO established English language proficiency requirements for pilots and air traffic controllers serving and operating international flights.”

If the failure of pilots and ATC to speak a common language can “gravely impact flight safety”, it would be reasonable to assume, for that reason alone, English is used exclusively. It is, apart from one country, France.


If ICAO and the individual aviation authorities are aware of the vital nature of speaking this common aeronautical language, is it therefore not incongruous that at one of the largest airport in the world, Charles de Gaulle (CDG), both French and English are used? The obvious question? If the authorities tasked with protecting passengers and crew safety know, why do they still allow it?

On two previous occasions, I was so concerned about two incidents I had previously been involved in, I informed the aviation regulators of the serious safety issues behind those incidents. On both occasions, the aviation regulators ignored these calls. Both subsequently resulted in tragic, completely avoidable crashes. One occurred at CDG. The tragedy was due to confusion caused directly by french being used in take-off clearances. This is the reason for my uncompromising stand on the issues described in the book “Pulling Wings From Butterflies”. It is an attempt to prevent a third, completely avoidable tragic crash.

The following is a chapter from the book “Pulling Wings From Butterflies”. It describes the background and my prediction that this tragic accident would occur at CDG. It also highlights the aviation establishments failure to react. As I say in the final paragraph, “The whole situation is a little like knowing that there is a bomb that has been placed at Charles De Gaul Airport. Not only do we know that there is a bomb, but we know exactly where the bomb has been placed. The only things we don’t know is, how big the bomb is, and when it will go off.”

You decide if ICAO’s claimed concern is genuine or just yet another example of the aviation establishments attempting to broadcast empty platitudes. I also leave you to consider if national pride should be allowed to trump passengers and crews safety?


“Common Aeronautical  Language c’est la vie.” 

CHIRPS  Publication (Confidential reporting system  For  Aviation)


 An incident I experienced first-hand during my last few months as base captain at Leeds highlighted that it was not just commercial implications that trumped flight safety. Another tragic accident exposed that misplaced national pride was just as lethal a cocktail to passengers and crew. 

The tragedy that follows, when considered alongside the fatal crash of the Shorts 360 at Edinburgh, are ultimately the reasons that reinforced my uncompromising stand this book later describes. 

This would become the second time that the authorities ignored my precise and direct highlighting of an obvious risk to flight safety. It was the second time that a fatal air crash occurred as a result. 

In this sorry tale, it was not just the UK regulator, the CAA, who did not take the appropriate action. It was also the French regulator, the Direction générale de l’aviation civile (DGAC) and European court and unions. 

In this particular episode, it appeared the nationalistic tendencies of the French were to have tragic consequences. 

With the Charles De Gaulle (CDG) route being a regular destination from Leeds, I started to pick up a pattern in the order that aircraft were being cleared to take off at France’s busiest airport. What is supposed to happen, subject to any air traffic slots, is that aircraft are cleared to take off in the order that they arrive at the holding points for the departure runway. 

It became apparent, however, that the “first come first served approach” was not the case at CDG. National favouritism was in full effect with not even a hint of concealment. It was so blatant that I found myself admiring them. 

The process would go as follows. A French aircraft, be it a short haul or long haul aircraft would taxi all the way to the holding point at the runway end. Every other, non-French aircraft, would be cleared to taxi for an intersection departure. The tragedy that I describe later was just but one example of this practice at CDG. 

The CDG plan then became clear. There would be, in effect, two queues of aircraft split along nationalistic lines; French, and then the rest of the world. Irrespective of the order that the aircraft arrived at the holding point, the take-off order would invariably be an Air France aircraft at the runway end, then a non-French aircraft from the intersection, followed by another Air France aircraft from runway end, and so on. 

It was only after the numerous times that I witnessed an Air France aircraft cleared to take off before my aircraft, even though I had been waiting longer at the holding point that I decided to do something about it. I explained to my first officer my plan of action that would save my company thousands of pounds over the year. 

‘Midland 498 request taxi’, the CDG ground controller cleared us to taxi to the usual intersection departure. ‘Negative, we require the full length for departure. Midland 498.’ The controller, as I had fully expected, questioned, why we needed all the runway length. I informed him that as the captain of the aircraft, I could have any length of runway that I deemed necessary, and I wanted the full length. 

The fact that there was now a BMI aircraft in the queue at the holding point that was reserved exclusively for Air France had, to put it mildly, put a rather large Saab 340 shaped fly in the ATC ointment. 

The cunning plan worked, and we were cleared to take off a good ten to fifteen minutes ahead of the usual intersection departure. The money BMI saved in fuel burnt sitting at holding points and the fact that the passengers would arrive back at Leeds on time made the effort worthwhile. 

We had put French air traffic in a bind. They had to get us out of the way to get the Air France flow going again. It became the standard practice after that to be sitting at the holding point as the filling in the sandwich between, for example, an Air France Concorde and an Air France 747. On one of these occasions an Air France Concorde captain who knew exactly what we were up to transmitted ‘I like your style Midland’, as we taxied onto the runway ahead of the magnificent symbol of what we used to be able to design. 

A year or so later saw the demise of this beautiful aircraft. According to the authority’s version of events, the crash was caused by debris on the runway. This was despite two firemen who were eyewitness to the crash, stating on oath, that they saw Concorde on fire before the alleged position of the debris on the runway. The official report pointed to an alloy strip that had fallen off a Continental Airlines DC10 departing for Newark as causing the crash. I would submit the ‘official’ reason for the crash is substantially at odds with the facts. A spacer had been omitted from being fitted to the undercarriage. Many believe, including Concord pilots, that was the reason the tyres exploded.

What I can confirm is, this was not the first time that debris had been on the runway with an aircraft cleared to take off at CDG. Two years prior to the crash, I witnessed an Alitalia aircraft at the holding point at CDG waiting for line up clearance. There was an aircraft about to land, however on his roll-out, all was not well. The pilot reported that he had blown a tire on landing and suspected it had resulted in debris on the runway. The aircraft was not French; he gave the information in English and in English came the reply. 

With that, the female controller acknowledged the transmission and then immediately gave clearance for the Alitalia aircraft to line up and take off. This was met with a somewhat disgruntled reply from the Alitalia pilot. ‘We will hold the position; didn’t the previous landing aircraft just report debris on the runway?’ 

ATC replied, sounding somewhat surprised ‘confirm you wish to hold?’ 

Imagine for a moment if the landing aircraft had been French, and ATC and pilot had talked about the debris in French. The Alitalia may have accepted the clearance with possibly disastrous consequences. But of course, all ATC transmissions are in English for that very reason – air safety. 

Or are they? 

It had become apparent… 


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part one - Tercio de varas

The first book in the trilogy begins by following the unique journey of Captain Mike Simkins from touring Europe as a drummer and performing with some of the most prominent musical artists of the late ’80s, to becoming a commander on the world’s most advanced passenger aircraft.

Ultimately, the wings were pulled from the butterfly of a dream career when, Mike stood alone to confront a multibillion-dollar aviation establishment when he refused to place profit before safety.

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PArt TWO - Tercio de banderillas

Will the pilot union BALPA and the regulator, the CAA, support a legal case of major significance to the safety of airline passengers and crew? 

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Why do pilots agree to fly when dangerously fatigued that directly places not only themselves but their passengers and crews in danger?

What was the answer from the Thomas Cook CEO to the question ‘did the company put profit before safety’ in relation to two children’s death in Corfu?

How will a pilot with zero legal experience confront a multimillion-pound multinational at trial?

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part three - Tercio de MUERTE

Crews admit that they are knowingly flying duties in the full expectation they will suffer fatigue. They are committing these criminal acts due to the “Bullying” culture at one of the UK’s biggest airlines.

The CAA is provided with irrefutable proof that duty times are knowingly falsified to make it appear they conformed with strictly laid down maximum times and that pilots are flying at the equivalent effectiveness of a drunk driver. Their response? ‘Get over it.’ . 

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