• NATO Phonetic Alphabet, the universal language of aviation

Although flight crew and air controllers must share a common language, on occasions, noise generated by radio itself or even peoples’ different accents can make it complex to identify a particular letter.

That’s why the need to create the international phonetic alphabet, also known as NATO phonetic alphabet, arose. To facilitate air communication and minimise possible errors and misunderstandings.

But, would you like to know what it consists of? Following, we explain the origins of the international phonetic alphabet and its characteristics.

Letters of the international phonetic alphabet

The NATO phonetic alphabet or spelling for radiotelephony consists of the assigning of a word easily identified with each letter, with the purpose of avoiding possible confusion due to the ambiguity of certain sounds.

Equivalent letters and words in radiotelephony are as follows:


Origins of the international phonetic alphabet

In order to understand the origin of the radiotelephony alphabet, it is important to keep in mind that despite the numerous advances in communication systems, there is still a slight background noise when using radio on aeroplanes.

Additionally, in air space such as what we have in Europe, a large number of countries are close together and although English is the official aviation language, it is spoken with a particular accent in each one, which affects its pronunciation.

We also have difficulty in communicating when there are ambiguous aspects in language, such as in the case of the letter O and the number 0, as both are pronounced as O.

The need to create an international system for spelling words in radiotelephony communication came about for these reasons.

Historical changes in the NATO phonetic alphabet

The first phonetic alphabet was acknowledged internationally for the first time in the International Telecommunications Union conference, ITU, in 1927 and was approved to be used by the maritime mobile service.

As with all initial versions, some modifications were approved in the 1932 ITU conference.

The resulting alphabet from this conference was recognized by the International Commission of Aeronavigation, ICAN and was the one used in aviation until the start of World War II.

The Allies in WWII created a new alphabet which was approved after some amendments by the International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO, on 1st March 1956.

This alphabet was also recognized by other international bodies, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, or the International Maritime Organization, IMO.

From this moment on, it was internationally known as International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, or NATO phonetic alphabet, and it has been used since then.

The alphabet used in aviation and also in the navy and military field

The radiotelephony alphabet, in addition to being used in aviation, is also used in navy communications and by the state security forces and corps.

It has become a fundamental tool to ensure efficient and safe communication throughout the world and having read this article, we are sure you can see its importance.

If you’d like to continue learning about aeronautics, don’t stop reading our aviation blog, in which we talk about curiosities such as the livery of aeroplanes, how clouds are formed or the type of fuel aeroplanes use.

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