Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Industrial and Entrepreneurial Engineering and Engineering Management

First Advisor

Dr. Tycho K. Fredericks

Second Advisor

Dr. Steven E. Butt

Third Advisor

Dr. William G. Rantz

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Vladimir Risukhin


Pilot ATC communication, cognitive workload, physiological measures, EEG, ECG, acoustic measures


Communication breakdowns between pilots and air traffic controllers (ATCs) have been identified as primary factors in fatal airplane accidents (Wu et. al., 2019; Bauh & Stolzer, 2018; Ritter, 1996; Eurocontrol, 2011). Although there are various aspects that have affected communication efficiency, language-related issues have been mostly associated with transmissions involved in serious incidents, especially in multicultural flight environments (Sexton & Helmrich, 2000). More than 2,000 people have died in accidents where miscommunication was a primary factor (Bauh & Stolzer, 2018; Patty, 2016). By the year of 2025, the air transportation system is projected to become more complex, and the volume is projected to grow exponentially (Salas & Maurino, 2010). Thus, next generation arrival and terminal operations will require a higher level of collaboration and cooperation between aircrews and ATC and will likely be managed via voice communication (FAA, 2009).

Research to investigate communication challenges between pilots and ATCs has been conducted mostly based on existing communication data derived from cockpit voice recorders (CRVs), voluntarily submitted aviation safety incident reports in NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) database, or examination of accident investigations and incident reports (Wu et. al., 2019; Estival et. al., 2016; Mosier et. al., 2013; Sexton & Helmreich, 1999; Morrow, 1993). Methods applied in these studies are primarily subjective and linguistic-related such as interviews, surveys, questionnaires, and conversation analysis (Efthymiou et. al., 2019; Mosier et. al, 2013; Estival & Molesworth, 2012). However, determining the communication challenges in multi-cultural flight environments with objective techniques is still required. Thus, the purpose of this study is to investigate the language-related communication challenges between pilots and ATCs in-flight operations using both objective (physiological) and subjective measures. Objective measures and subjective measures on 15 pilot participants were collected while they were communicating with native and nonnative American-English-speaking ATCs in a simulated flight environment. Flight scenarios included both normal workload and high workload flight conditions.

It was determined that native American English speaker pilots’ cognitive workload were statistically higher when they were communicating with nonnative ATCs compared to native ATCs in both normal and high workload flight conditions using objective (physiological and acoustic) measures and subjective measures. It was also determined that in some of the flight phases, pilots were more cognitively loaded compared to other phases in both normal and workload flight conditions. Prediction models were developed to quantify pilots’ cognitive workload when communicating with native/nonnative ATCs in-flight operations. These prediction models as well as the other results of this study could help allocate various tasks in-flight operations to the aircrew (captain and first officer) more effectively. Ultimately, these efforts could help prevent potential accidents/incidents that would occur due to the communication challenges between pilots and ATCs in multicultural flight environments.


Fifth advisor: Dr. Lee J. Wells

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access