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Investigating Language as a Human Factor

  • Accident and Incident Reviews

  • Taxonomy of Communication Factors in Aviation

  • Protocols for the Investigation of Language in Aviation Accident and Incidents

  • American Airlines 965

A hallmark of accident investigations is their thoroughness. Aviation accident investigators understand that improving safety requires a detailed understanding of the usually complex set of causes and contributing factors that result in an accident.


Accident investigators look behind the immediate set of circumstances to uncover less readily visible human factors that may have been at play. The well-known Dryden Investigation into the crash of 1989 Air Ontario Flight 1363 is often considered pivotal in our understanding of how organizational factors can undermine a safety culture, or contribute to establishing a culture in which an accident may be more likely to occur. 


An integral part, therefore, of accident investigations is understanding the background and potential organizational circumstances that allow the series of events and happenings to line up in such a way that an accident occurs. Language builds the landscape upon which safety depends. The role of language in aviation safety is universally acknowledged to be a critical factor in aviation safety. 


Language is also beguilingly complex, and understanding how language--and its close cousin, culture--affect aviation communications, requires greater familiarity with linguistics than is generally available to accident investigators. As thorough as accident investigations are, most accident investigators bring a layperson's understanding of language, linguistics, and communication.


Missed opportunities: The Case of American 965

As a concrete example of why it is important that accident investigation teams are provided with a more informed and comprehensive perspective on language in aviation, it is useful to recall American Airlines 965. Read More.



Future practices

Accident investigators need better tools to support their investigation into all potential factors that may have contributed to an accident.  


The LHUFTA Center seeks to gather together the best research on language, communication, and culture in aviation accidents and incidents so that researchers can more systematically begin to assess and address communication safety issues. 



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