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NATCA Members Help International Aviation Professionals Learn English Through IFATCA

English is the international language requirement for aviation professionals. That’s why the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) began a (SEP) to strengthen the general communication and English language skills of all air traffic controllers. Retired NATCA Active Volunteers (RNAV) Committee Chair Tom Thompson and IFATCA’s Executive Vice President of the Americas and former NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert volunteer as part of the SEP to help participants improve speaking and understanding English. 

English-speaking volunteers offer participants one-hour sessions up to three a month. The volunteers create an environment where air traffic controllers can practice plain English language and build up self-confidence in both usual and unusual situations that necessitate departure from standard radiotelephony phraseology. The program has expanded to the pilot community as well.

Thompson met recently with Mateo Garcia, a second-year controller at the Ezeiza Area Control Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“Mateo and I discussed our professional experiences, family, sports, travel, life in our countries and a whole host of other topics with the goal being to increase his comprehension skills of the English language outside of air traffic lingo. It is my understanding there will be another request coming for additional volunteer facilitators soon,” Thompson said. “I highly recommend the SEP. The program continues to be a very enlightening and extremely rewarding experience.”

Gilbert facilitated sessions recently with Arashi, an air traffic controller from Japan now working at their Flight Inspection Center, who does not speak English at home or in the Flight Inspection office, so the SEP practice is critical. Arashi has been participating since August, with around three sessions each month. Gilbert also worked with Kenichi, also from Japan, who is a 787 pilot for ANA.

NATCA volunteers for the SEP also include Adam Rhodes (Houston TRACON, I90), Aaron Mills (Chicago O’Hare ATCT, ORD), Joe Lolio (Houston Center, ZHU), Patrick Long (Seattle Center, ZSE), and Jim Fuhrman (Ret., Fort Smith ATCT, FSM).

Learn more about the program and find requests for volunteers at the program web page.

PHOTO (clockwise, starting top left): Garcia at work, Garcia and Thompson virtual session, and Arashi and Gilbert virtual session.

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