Wings Magazine

Pardon my French: aviation language protocol

Feb. 13, 2014, Montreal - In Quebec, language is always a touchy issue, including in aviation.

February 13, 2014  By The Montreal Gazette

“We provide service in the language we are addressed in,” said air
traffic controller Caroline Héroux. “If the pilot speaks to us in
French, we’ll reply in French. If he initiates a conversation in
English, we’ll reply in English. So it’s the choice of the pilot. By
law, we are authorized to provide bilingual service in Quebec. We always
initiate in English (given that the overwhelming majority of pilots are


“That said,” added Lachance, “the pilot in
command does not have the authority to switch back and forth, unless
there’s an emergency.”



“If I call you in French and you want to
respond in English, you can. But if you want to switch in the next
communication back to French, you can’t. This is to avoid confusion,
based on numerous years of research. People are well aware of this: ‘You
shall not switch back and forth’.”


Air France pilots going to the U.S. or points west in Canada often request to remain on Montreal’s frequency.


tell them I’m transferring them to Toronto airspace and French service
is terminated,” said Héroux. “They say ‘no, let’s stay with you,’ so it
doesn’t become a safety issue for Toronto — which doesn’t master French
well at all.”


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