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A lot of air traffic management related material passes through our hands, usually to be checked with a view to ensuring quality of content and consistency of the terminology. There is a disturbing trend that is becoming more and more evident with the passage of time. The documents show a deteriorating level of quality in respect of terminology use.

Why is this a problem? Unless they have been sensitized to the issue, the authors of those documents may not feel particularly disturbed by the fact that they use the terms aircraft, aeroplane or airplane interchangeably in their text, they may even feel that the varied use of words reflects better writing style. But in technical documents, the terms used must all have their precise definition and it is not enough to find a given word in a Webster's Dictionary.

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Let's have a look at these three words, aircraft, aeroplane, and airplane. They are all English words and they all mean something that flies. Very true. But there are many things that "fly", from hot air balloons to helicopters and, depending on how you define "fly", even hovercraft. So how do we know which exactly a given text refers to if it is not clear from the context?

If you see a piece of text that says "a flashing white light shall be displayed on all aircraft" and then another one that says "a flashing white light shall be displayed on all aeroplanes" and you own a helicopter, a glider and a hot air balloon, which one would you need to equip based on the first requirement? And the second?