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Advice about improving your Aviation English and passing an ICAO English test from Aviation English Asia. Article written by Michael Egerton Using English grammatical structures accurately is an important skill needed by pilots and controllers in their ICAO English test but also for other airline employees in their everyday duties, particularly if you need to say something in a subtle way or obscure information.  When learning English you should also learn the function of a structure rather than just memorising the structure itself.  When you know what a structure is for, and why it is used your Aviation English will improve rapidly. In this article we are going to look at passive and active voice, and why they are used in English.  We will then look at an example of how they can be used in an aviation context, followed by some Aviation English exercises.

Aviation English Exercise

Reading comprehension

Six passengers on-board a flight from Turkey to Russia on 24th September were made to stand because there were not enough seats.  The adult travellers stood for the entire five-hour flight, except for when the plane hit turbulence, during which time the passengers were forced to sit in the aisle without seatbelts. The passengers were subjected to ‘standing room only’ after the Tatarstan Airlines flight from Antalya to Ekaterinburg was replaced by another aircraft with fewer seats just before take-off. The standing passengers were without oxygen masks or life vests on the overcrowded jet. One passenger told the UK's Daily Mail newspaper “The adults had no choice but to fly standing for five hours.  When the plane flew through turbulence, they went from standing to sitting in the aisle where they had no safety belts.” The cabin crew told passengers to put children on their lap - but the children were too big.  The angry passengers have each demanded $4,900 in compensation but were only offered $212 by the tour company which had booked many passengers on the flight. A spokesperson from the tour company defended the airline, saying the passengers could have waited for a later flight.  “People had a choice to fly on that plane standing up, or wait seven hours for another plane,” said Evgenia Fedorova “All the tourists decided to fly back despite uncomfortable conditions.” The incident has not been denied by the airline and aviation regulators are said to be probing the incident.

Comprehension questions Before answering the questions, read the article again and identify which sentences use passive voice and which sentences use active voice.

  • Why was passive/active voice used?
  • Why do you think the airline made the decision to make passengers stand?
  • Was it a good decision?
  • What were the dangers of having passengers standing during a flight?
  • Would you have liked to have been one of the cabin crew working on that flight?
  • If you were a member of the airline how would you explain to a passenger that they had to stand?

Structure The structure of passive voice is:

Subject + finite form of to be + Past Participle

Passive voice is used for the following purposes:

  1. To emphasise an object, eg six passengers were made to stand
  2. To de-emphasise the subject/agent, eg the airline told passengers to sit in the aisle (not good for the airline)
  3. If you don't know who is responsible for an action

When rewriting active sentences in passive voice:

  • the object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence
  • the finite form of the verb is changed (to be + past participle)
  • the subject of the active sentence becomes the object of the passive sentence (or is omitted)

Aviation English Exercise How do you say the following sentences in passive voice?

  1. Cabin crew made passengers stand because there were not enough seats.
  2. Cabin crew forced passengers to sit in the aisle without seatbelts.
  3. Another aircraft with fewer seats replaced the Tatarstan Airlines flight from Antalya to Ekaterinburg.
  4. One passenger told the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper …
  5. The cabin crew told passengers to put children on their lap.
  6. The passengers have each demanded $4900 in compensation.
  7. The airline has not denied the incident.
  8. Aviation regulators are probing the incident.

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit We can help you improve your English whether you are an experienced pilot, a cadet entry pilot, a controller, aerospace engineer or flight attendant, with custom courses designed specifically for your needs. If you haven’t already please join the Aviation English mailing list for instant access to free demonstration units of the ICAO Aviation English Online course, special offers and details of courses in your area. Of course, feel free to leave a comment or even a suggestion for a future article. We value all of your feedback.

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