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Travel writer defends suggestion Welsh language could make planes less safe

15 Apr 2021 4 minute read
Inset: Simon Calder. Picture by Holidayextras (CC BY 2.0). Plane picture by Alan Wilson (CC BY-SA 2.0).

A travel writer has defended the suggestion that the Welsh language could make planes less safe.

Simon Calder came under fire for an article for the London-based news organisation, The Independent, in which he complained about Welsh language announcements on aircraft that fly into Wales.

In his defence he said that his article “considers whether pilots are being given too much information” and that he’d used Welsh as an “example”.

In the column he claimed that including “more guff” in announcements was a “burden” to airmen and women as “they carry out their duty to fly us safely and professionally” and said that he doubted it would cause “any harm” if the Welsh language was axed.

While he admitted that “passenger aviation is astonishingly safe”, he suggested there could be “unintended consequence” due to “an abundance” of ‘safety’ information.

He told The National: “This is a story about the risks posed by requiring pilots of passenger planes to read a great deal of information before they operate the aircraft.

“As the report into a near-catastrophic incident at San Francisco revealed, the captain and first officer of an Air Canada flight missed the very important notification that one of the runways at their destination was closed.

“My article considers whether pilots are being given too much information. As an example, I have cited the 150-word instruction about Covid precautions that flight crew heading for Wales are given.

“I wonder if that is essential information for pilots, rather than something that their airline should be told about?”


His article received a fierce backlash on social media.

Welsh comedian Elis James said: “Come on Simon, you’re better than this.”

Julie Owen Moylan said: “Wales has two official languages and we are very tired of having to justify it to the culturally ignorant.”

Vaughan Williams said: “What an idiot! “He claims to be well travelled and yet asks such a dumb question full of arrogance and ignorance.

“Yes it is necessary! Is it necessary for Welsh speakers and supporters of the Welsh culture to have to put up with jumped up travel ‘experts’ like you?”

Welsh journalist Gareth Owen said: “I’ve never been a fan of the ‘everyone speaks English so why bother trying’ attitude towards other languages.”

Professor Lloyd Llewelyn-Jones said: “Anti-Welsh-language bias here from @SimonCalder. It shows his staggering ignorance.”

Journalist Tony McDonough said: “Every time I travel on the Paris Metro, all those announcements in French just drive me crazy.”

Media law expert David Banks said: “*Deep sigh*. Here we go again, they never learn do they? And so take one hell of a beating in the replies…”

Social media whiz Owen Williams said: This is Wales. We speak Welsh. Get over it”.

In his article, Calder said: “In the unlikely event you find yourself aboard a plane flying to Wales before the end of April, you should discover the Welsh terms for ‘a new continuous cough, a high temperature or a loss of, or change in, normal sense of taste or smell.

“That is one stipulation of a ‘Notam’ that applies to all passenger flights into Wales up to 29 April: a mandatory Welsh-language announcement about Covid.

“Notam is short for a NOTice to AirMen. This disrespectfully gender-specific term is defined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as ‘a notice containing information essential to personnel concerned with flight operations but not known far enough in advance to be publicised by other means.

“The personnel concerned, whether male or female, are pilots. I wonder how many of them have complied with the instruction that a 150-word onboard message about coronavirus precautions is delivered ‘in English, Welsh and an officially recognised language of the country of departure’?

“I would be surprised if the answer was anything other than zero, and doubly so if the lack of a Welsh-language announcement caused any harm.

“But the existence of this weighty Notam means yet more guff for airmen and women to wade through as they carry out their duty to fly us safely and professionally. And adding to their pre-flight burden is not a zero-risk issue.

In a tweet he added: “Is it really necessary to instruct pilots flying to Cardiff to ensure that a Covid announcement is made in Welsh as well as English and one other language?”

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