On 25 January 1990, Avianca Flight 052 was flying from Columbia to the United States when it crashed after a missed approach to JFK Airport in New York. The direct cause of the accident was fuel exhaustion but the NTSB investigation identified multiple causal factors. The Avianca captain, who was flying the aircraft, repeatedly instructed the first officer to notify ATC about the fuel emergency. The first officer, however, did not use the word ‘emergency’ but instead requested ‘priority’ and told ATC that the airplane was ‘running out of fuel’. Why did the first officer mitigate the captain’s instructions? This paper hypothesizes that a range of factors relating to national culture, professional culture, organizational culture and stress may have contributed to the first officer’s use of mitigated speech. The implication is that the communication breakdown was not simply caused by inadequate English language proficiency.
(2015). ‘We Need Priority Please’ Mitigated Speech in the Crash of Avianca Flight 052. 18th International Symposium on Aviation Psychology, 578-583.