The Sunbelt extends from California to Florida across the southern United States . While there are multiple benefits to living in the Sunbelt, there are costs and drawbacks as well; we refer to them as “sun tax.” The cost of living in the Sunbelt can be higher than other areas. We take tremendous amounts of grief, and get no sympathy, in the winter from our friends and family who live in the northern tier.
One perceived problem to pilots living in the Sunbelt is all the foreign pilot training that goes on at our fair-weather airports. Foreign student pilots are drawn to the United States for more than just weather. In addition to the excellent training, it is actually more economical to train here. It is less expensive to come here and get their pilot certificate than do the training in their home country even when you add in the costs of getting here, housing and meals. This also provides a great economic boon to the communities where flight schools cater to foreign pilot training. One student will spend around $50,000.00 for flight training from zero time to a commercial/instrument rating and will pay rent for a year in addition to food and transportation.
However, local pilots frequently complain about being imposed upon while struggling to understand pilots whose mother tongue is not English. But requiring foreign students to work in English, both on the radio and in their daily interactions, while they are here actually enhances safety because they get a better command of English. This facilitates their integration into the international aviation environment. I admire them for taking on this formidable challenge.
When I was stationed in Germany, it was always fun watching our new pilots struggle to understand German controllers speaking English. As soon as they were starting to get comfortable with the German accent, we would take them to a fair-weather training base in Italy or Spain. This would not only force them to deal with those new accents, they would also have to work with French controllers to get to either destination.
While in Germany I also flew gliders. The soaring club I flew with didn’t have any English speaking instructors. I had done tow launches in Canada but the Germans exclusively used winch launches. It’s a very time-compressed activity so it was important for me to be able to keep up in German. This gives me a great empathy for all the foreign pilots training here in English. We do them a great favor by expecting them to speak good English, but we can do that without being mean or ugly to them. I also must give great credit to the tower controllers who work with our foreign visitors, and I encourage the controllers to be patient and firm as well.
My latest experience in the international environment was a trip to Normandy, France last summer when I rented a Cirrus to fly over the D-Day beaches and Mont St. Michel. There was no ATIS at the airport in Caen, and when I came up on the single frequency for ground and tower, everything was in French. I asked the instructor if he wanted to make the radio calls and he said I should. I made the call in English. The controller didn’t skip a beat and responded in English with the airfield information and clearance to taxi.
We really need to appreciate what the rest of the world goes through to be able to meet the International Civil Aviation Organization’s mandate that the language of aviation is English. The next time you hear a foreign student working hard to communicate in English, think what it would be like to be in his or her country trying to fly and having to speak that language rather than English.