Much of the ATM material passes by our hands, and is usually checked with a view to ensuring quality content and terminology consistency. A worrying trend is becoming clearer over time. The documents show a deterioration in the quality level with regard to the use of terms.
Why is this a problem? Unless they are aware of this issue, the authors of these documents may not be particularly disturbed by the fact that they use the terms aircraft, plane or plane interchangeably in their text, and they may also feel that the varied use of words reflects better writing style. But in technical documents, the terms used must have their precise definition, and it is not enough to find a specific word in Webster's dictionary.
Let's take a look at these three words: plane, plane, and plane. They are all English words and they all mean something that flies. very right. But there are many things that "fly", from hot air balloons to helicopters, depending on how "flying" is defined, even hovercraft. How do we know exactly what the specific text refers to if it is not clear from the context?
If you see a piece of text saying "A flashing white light should be displayed on all airplanes" then another message appears saying "Flashing white light should be displayed on all airplanes" and you own a helicopter, a glider and a hot air balloon, which one you will need to equip on The basis of the first condition? And the second?
Although I assume you know the answer without the following explanation, it is still interesting to look at these terms in more detail.
First of all, we have to say the word "airplane", at least in the international context. Aircraft and aircraft are identified only by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
A plane is any machine that can obtain support in the air from the air reaction other than air reactions on the surface of the Earth.
The plane is a heavier than air powered plane, and its plane in flight derives mainly from aerodynamic reactions on surfaces that remain constant under certain flight conditions.
So what do these definitions tell us? Hovercraft are not a plane (air reactions against the surface of the Earth) and a glider is not a plane (powered) but a plane. A balloon is a plane but it is not a plane … and so on.
As you can see, the expression of requirements and the appropriateness of the required infrastructure and services need to use the terms correctly, otherwise things get quickly mysterious, leading to misunderstanding and endless discussions.
We used the terms aircraft and plane (the subject of the most common mistakes) as examples but there are dozens of other terms that, if used incorrectly or inconsistently, can lead to serious comprehension problems.
Some simple rules can help
The proper use of terms is not rocket science. Needs good knowledge of the subject and a little discipline. Here are some simple rules that can help.
• If there is an ICAO specific term for something, use it. ICAO has developed definitions of terms used in aviation provisions around the world as follows. Use of terms as defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization provides immediate benefits in terms of consistency with ICAO documents and documents derived from them. These definitions are also consistent with each other.
• If there is no definition of ICAO but a definition from another large organization, use it. In some cases, ICAO may lag behind developments and may not have a definition (yet) for a period or the term is not used in ICAO provisions. However, some other organizations have developed a widely accepted or even standardized definition. In such cases, this recognized definition should be used and the source clearly defined. There may be several definitions from different sources … Use the definition that appears to be the most appropriate but use it consistently everywhere.
• Create your profile In some cases, you may find that a term that no one has yet provided a definition needs to be understood in a particular way and only in this way. Create your own and use it consistently across your documents. It is also a good idea to try to promote your new definition. If you need to, others may. The wider it will be used, the better for the overall consistency.
• When the term has multiple meanings. A great example of this is the air and ground side, two periods divide the airport into two parts, one of which you can call in the public domain and the other is limited to travelers and employees only. The problem is that there are at least two schools of thought in which the dividing line is located between the air side and the ground side. Although the dividing line is always artificial and arbitrary, its actual location makes a difference in the operations that extend across the section. In such cases, feel free to adopt which line dividing position is best for you, however, always clearly define the boundaries between the air side and the ground side (or any other side required by the specific term). There is a clear signal mitigating the negative effects of this type of multiple use.
• Be consistent. Perhaps the most important rule is to be consistent. One worse thing than using wrongly defined non-defined terms or terms is using the terms inconsistently across the document. Inconsistent use of technical terms is the surest way to confuse the reader.
What about shortcuts?
Few disciplines in the world are so prolific with the creation of acronyms as aviation. When we talk, users may think we use some sort of secret-code language … and worse, we tend to assume that each of us knows all the abbreviations from every part of the job while in fact CUTE may actually mean nothing For the air traffic controller while ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) may look like a four-letter word to a check-in proxy. To the top managers, who may be coming from the financial world, CUTE or ATIS may not say much unless there is a price against them … so what to do with abbreviations?
Here again, the main rules are: Use acceptable acronyms whenever possible and be consistent at all times. Include the list of abbreviations in all technical documents and consider writing the complete words (followed by acronym) when using them for the first time in the text.
Avoid creating new shortcuts. Of course this is not always possible, if nothing else, there are new working groups, new operations, and new equipment, all of whom yearn for their own names, easy to remember. So, please come up with new shortcuts but try to avoid reusing shortcuts that already have a constant meaning. You may feel that your field is stronger and will eventually put pressure on the other person but believe me, and not paying attention to this will only confuse everyone.
What if you write in your national language?
Whether you write in English or your own language, the guidelines are the same. However, it may not be easily implemented if the terms are not entered into your language at the same level of detail as in English. There may be opportunities to be a leader in enriching the local language with the new terms required … In some cases, trying to impose consistency and new terms on the professional writing scene may not be easy or appreciated by your colleagues. Use arguments and examples similar to those listed above to convince them of the importance of correct use of terms.
SESAR, NextGen and SWIM
Experts in Europe and the United States are busy writing blue print for the next generation of SESAR and NextGen air traffic management systems, respectively. These systems will introduce new concepts, new technologies and new processes, each with specific terms and abbreviations.
Large-scale system information management (SWIM) is something that relies heavily on ideas first put forward in the general IT field, with SWIM applying those things in the context of aviation.
All of the above activities will generate many new documents that must be consistent in all areas, both in terms of old definitions, acronyms and new definitions that will be presented. Their responsibility is great if one considers that SESAR and NextGen documents will for decades define what is called what and what we mean by what.
Mistakes or contradictions and future generations will face inconsistent and disparate terms for a long time to come.
The new documents we see today are cause for concern and show signs of people ignoring the simplest rules for using terms. They should remember that at the end of the day, we will all have to know beyond any doubt whether we need to install this flashing white light on our special flying machine. Only proper and consistent terminology can help in deciding …