“To STE or not to STE….that is the question.”

Over the years, we at AEC have encountered many instances where the topic of writing to the Simplified Technical English (STE) specification has come up. In the world of airframe manufacturers, it’s really not an option to not use STE. Aircraft manufacturers need to ensure that wherever in the world their aircraft end up in service, the mechanics and other personnel are able to clearly understand what needs to be done to keep that aircraft properly maintained.

It’s an established fact that English is the international language of civil aviation. And it’s probably safe to say that, in western countries, this is also a fact for military aviation. But let’s stick to civil aviation, for now. The fact is, many maintenance personnel, and others in civil aviation, learn English as a second language. That makes it imperative that when they read an instruction or description that there be no ambiguity. That’s where STE comes in.

Even though STE is recommended for civil aviation projects, the reality is that in many countries where aircraft are modified, the documentation gets authored by writers for whom English is a second language. I personally have seen maintenance manuals that were so poorly written they would never have gotten past an English proofreader, let alone comply with STE. This happens because companies look at keeping costs down, and don’t provide adequate language training. Having said that, it’s a reality of life, today. Documentation is often seen as a necessary evil (the job is not complete until the paperwork is done). But we need to exercise serious caution when considering the product of our authors. Poorly written instructions can lead to safety issues, and the liability of the producer of aircraft documentation is a real problem.

So, while STE is really a preferred way of authoring aircraft documentation, especially maintenance manuals, you will seldom find situations where an investment is taken seriously when authoring these manuals. And while this cannot be avoided, do ensure that the quality of the written word is accurate enough to ensure proper maintenance of your modifications. It’s your responsibility as the one who made the modifications to the aircraft.