How do you pronounce…?
This is a very interesting article by Allen Amsbaugh which was originally published in NASA’s ASRS Directline about the issues of navigational fixes which sound or look similar. The ASRS is the Aviation Safety Reporting System which collects reports anonymously and then analyses the data in order to share important information to the aviation community. This is why the reports below are referenced only by number and not by the name of the person who sent it in.
The article is an intriguing intersection of aviation and language which shows just how important it is to consider the human factor, even for something simple like naming airspace fixes.
The FAA’s National Flight Data Center is in charge of naming airspace fixes. When a new fix is needed by an FAA region or facility, a request is made with a choice of names. The center will then check to see that the proposed name:
a) is pronounceable,
b) does not duplicate another spelling,
c) is not profane in several of the major languages, and
d) is unique to the entire world.
Then the new fix is put into use.
Although the ASRA article is a bit dated and some of these waypoints may have been renamed in the meantime, I found it very helpful to understand the types of problems that could come up.
I’m off camping for the weekend (wish for sunshine for me!) but I would like to thank NASA and ASRS for allowing me to reprint the piece.
How do you spell…? How do you pronounce…?
by Allen Amsbaugh
Over the years, the ASRS has received many reports regarding navigational identifiers that sound similar to other fixes, or are not spelled in a logical fashion. Two caught my eye recently and were the impetus for this article. The first incident was reported by two crew members. One of these reporters stated:
“Enroute to PDX from DEN. Near BOI cleared direct DUFUR, direct PDX. Inadvertently spelled DUFER into the FMC. Note: DUFER is 14 DME, ILS 16R Seattle. Since the course seemed reasonable, I did not double-check for route deviation DUFER to PDX. A lesson learned! I am surprised that two intersections would be so close with similar names.” (# 258559, 258669)
SEA is about 50 miles farther from BOI than PDX, and about 17 degrees farther to the north. The ARTCC Controller rectified the situation by a gentle, “Where are you going?” The ASRS has issued a For Your Information Notice to the appropriate agencies and FAA offices in an attempt to rectify this problem. It was recommended that the name be changed on one of the intersections. We all hope that one of the spellings will not be changed to DOOFR!
More Waypoint Problems
Another air carrier crew had a problem entering the Charlotte, NC, area:
“We mistook Barretts Mountain (BZM) to LINCO intersection. Instead we started BZM to LYNNO intersection. LINCO is 203 degree radial off BZM, and LYNNO is 115 degree radial off BZM, both about 25 miles. It is suggested that intersections which sound so similar not be used in such a close area to another.” (# 108815, 108919) The ASRS issued an Alert Bulletin to the appropriate FAA offices with a recommendation that the name of one of the intersections be changed. This is exactly what has been done—LYNNO is now PLUMM on the MAJIC SEVEN arrival to Charlotte (MAJIC.MAJIC7). The system works!
The system also works in international airspace, as seen in the following report:
“On R22 between Alaska and Japan (the ‘N’ route). We requested Tokyo Radio to obtain clearance from FL330 to FL290 after NOGAL. HF communication was spotty, but I read back the clearance twice. Each time, Tokyo acknowledged by reading back the whole clearance. (I assumed he did this because of HF. Perhaps he was trying to clarify the fix.) Passing NOGAL, I called, ‘Departing FL330 for FL290.’ When we called ‘reaching FL290,’ Tokyo told us we should be at FL330 until NOGAR (a fix 493 miles down track). It’s interesting to note that it took about three minutes before he could pronounce the two fixes differently, and then we realized there was a similar sounding fix on the same route. Japanese pronounce ‘L’ and ‘R’ [similarly], making the words [sound] the same when pronounced by Tokyo Radio. Tokyo immediately amended our clearance to FL290. An immediate review of related fix names for similar sounding names, as pronounced by local speaker’s language, is essential. Not every nation or language can or does speak English the same way native English speakers do. Japanese phonetic differences should be taken into account, especially in Japanese airspace. At a minimum, NOGAL should be changed. (# 242971)
ASRS issued a For Your Information Notice to the FAA with the recommendation that NOGAL intersection be renamed to minimize confusion. The latest charts show that NOGAL has been renamed NYTIM. But, how does one pronounce NYTIM? Is it as “nighttime,” or possibly “nit tim,” or even “nee tim”? Even native English speakers will have to guess about this one.
The Perils of English Pronunciation
English is a wonderful tongue, and is the official language of the air. Every time that I flew abroad, I thanked my lucky stars that the Wright brothers were American! But the English language has several deficiencies—the biggest one being that there are no iron-clad rules for the pronunciation of vowels and combinations of vowels. Several consonants, in combination or singly, also can be pronounced more than one way.
The English language has come a long way from its Latin roots wherein pronunciation has very strong rules, but aviation makes tough demands on English. One member of the ASRS staff suggested using the Klingon language, which has no vowels; another suggested creating more vowels just for naming navigational fixes!
The United States airspace fixes also include many names of Native American, Spanish, and French origin. Very near the ASRS office is the compass locator for the ILS Runway 30L approach to the San José International Airport—JORGE, the Spanish name equivalent to the English “George.” I have heard it pronounced “George,” and more properly, “Hor-Hay,” as it would be pronounced in Spanish. Many others come to mind, including DOWNE on the ILS Runway 25L at Los Angeles. Is it pronounced “Down,” or “Downey” as is the city beneath it? You will hear this both ways too.
When expert help is proffered, it is a good idea to accept it—as the following example shows:
“Controller gave route change ‘Direct PERRI intersection, J8 OTT, OTT 3 arrival KBWI.’ He spelled out the intersection. The Captain began programming the FMS while we both reached for enroute charts. The Captain loaded ‘Direct PERRY,’ and the course indicated about 140° which was reasonable from the assigned 090° heading. The FMS would not accept J8, and we began to analyze why. TCAS II indicated traffic which was descending through our altitude and a potential conflict. The Captain initiated a left turn to avoid the traffic. Center issued a ‘Left turn immediately!’ and then assigned 100° [heading]. The conflict could have been averted by my verifying PERRI versus PERRY as the FMS entry. The Controller spelled out P-E-R-R-I, and I wrote it down correctly, but did not verify the Captain’s input…” (# 264927)
This error resulted in a traffic conflict because of the wrong heading. The Controller wanted the reporter to go to PERRI, a fix east of Charleston, WV, while the Captain entered PERRY, a fix southeast of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean! The FMS would not take J8 from PERRY because PERRY is not on J8, but PERRI is. Both man (the Controller) and machine (the FMS) tried to help this crew—to no avail.
5, 4, 3…
These problems are not restricted to five letter fixes. They also crop up in three letter VORs, as evidenced in this report:
“The original flight plan from SFODFW included Las Vegas, NM, as part of the filed route. A re-file was requested airborne, “Direct Beatty [BTY], Las Vegas, [LVS] Wichita Falls [SPS], on course.” We were requesting BTY, LVS and SPS VORs. LAX Center cleared us “direct LIDAT, Beatty, Las Vegas, Wichita Falls.” Just east of BTY VOR, LAX Center gave us a right turn to a 180 degree heading and said that we were getting close to a hot restricted area. LAX Center said that our clearance was over Las Vegas [LAS], NV…I realize that there are many navigation fixes around the world that have the same name…” (# 81977)
The reporter is right. There are many fixes with the same name, but no five-letter airspace fixes have the same name, only VORs and NDBs. For example, VORs with the same name but different letter designators include Springfield (SGF), MO, and Springfield (SPI), IL; Las Vegas (LAS), NV, and Las Vegas (LVS), NM; Bradford (BDF), IL, and Bradford (BFD), PA; and Danville (DNV), IL, and Danville (DAN), VA. All these examples are in United States airspace, and there are many more throughout the world.
As you might surmise, all of the above incidents happened in modern aircraft with Omega Navigation Systems or Inertial Navigation Systems. The same problems will be encountered by those pilots flying with Global Positioning Systems or LORAN. This is not to imply that the flight crew with the more modern navigation systems are more careless, it just means that they have new problems to solve. They must be more careful with their long distance leg requests to ensure that ARTCC understands that they want to go to Farmington, NM, (FMN) not Farmington, MO, (FAM) or Farmington, MN, (FGT). Flight crews must be very careful when they type a fix into their FMCs so that they go to CLEAT, MD, not CLETE, OH. There are many examples similar to CLEAT/CLETE—such as AANTS/ ANNTS, BRIJJ/BRIDG, etc. If you’d like to play a little game, go to FAA Publication 7350.6, “Location Identifiers,” and turn to the Airspace fixes section. See how many pairs you can find in one minute. You’ll find many are listed consecutively, such as DUMPE/ DUMPI.
Entering the Fix
If there are any questions in your mind, whether you are a pilot or a controller, you must ask immediately to clarify the situation, of course. We also have a few suggestions to help you avoid Waypoint Identifier Woes:
- Pilots flying the aircraft with the new navigation systems should have their charts on hand at all times to ensure that spelling mistakes are not made.
Charts and flight plans should be consulted often to ensure that direct routings seem reasonable, and that the map presentation has no strange “spikes” or turns.
Common sense precautions and special care will prevent any of the navigation errors we’ve discussed.
Again, thanks to ASRS Directline for allowing me to reprint the article. I hope you found it as interesting as I did.
You might be interested in reading about TWA flight 514 on Wikipedia or the 40-page final report. TWA flight 514 crashed into a mountain on final approach in 1974 and the accident investigation board ended up split as to whether the flight crew or Air Traffic Control were responsible for the error which led to a controlled flight into terrain. The investigators also found that six weeks before the accident, another commercial flight had almost ended up in the same situation. At the time, there was no means for this flight crew to report what had happened without risk of reprisals or blame. In a case such as this, it meant that flight crew and controllers did not report a possibly confusing situation if there was the risk of making them look bad. The results was that a known issue might not get attention until an aircraft actually crashed, which is exactly what happened with TWA flight 514. If the other flight crew had felt safe enough to report their confusion at that location, the fatal crash might have been avoided. After this investigation, the ASRS was created in order to facilitate anonymous reporting for flight crew and controllers without fear of reprisals.
My favourite airspace fix, by the way, is coming into Mannheim in Germany. For an approach from the south, the waypoint is called MANEM, which is what Mannheim is called in the local dialect (Mannemerisch), which I learned as a child. A small thing but it made me smile.
See you next week.