I think this is an amazing example of barriers in intercultural communication because it is one of the most common ways, we connect with other cultures is by travel. I think that the flight controllers were used to living in a low-context culture and expected the pilots to communicate in such a manner. In the same manner, the pilots are used to a high context culture and expected the controllers to realize the extent of the emergency. A way to mitigate this situation in the future or if you could go back is to take into mind the communication context of other cultures. The controllers should have taken the time to ask for more context. They could have asked them to explain their situation fully and explain the factors. However, on the pilot's side, they should have taken some more time to explain the severity of the situation. Instead of assuming that the controllers know the whole situation. However in both of these situations simply blaming one side would be unfair but an area that can be improved. This could be by creating international guides for pilots and controllers on how to communicate various situations. Another option is to give pilots training on the places they are going to fly to and how to best communicate with the staff of other airports and facilities.
When looking at the Avianca plane crash, it seemed apparent that the cockpit crew valued high context over low context. The captain of the plane was in obvious distress over the situation unfolding right before him. Many times did he tell his co-pilot to let ATC know how low on fuel they were, and that they were in an emergency. But his co-pilot was not as urgent or worried as he was. Never once did the co-pilot let the ATC know the emergency they were in, and make very passive comments about their fuel saying “ah, we’re running out of fuel”, which is normal for pilots to say to ATC at the end of the flight, however if the co-pilot had let them know of the emergency, different measures could have been taken. It was obvious the communication between the pilots was very lackluster. The urgency the captain showed was not received or reciprocated by the co-pilot and thus was not relayed to ATC.
When it comes to the ground control, they clearly value and require low context. Like mentioned previously, a comment to ground control about something like low fuel can be taken multiple ways. Often do pilots let know ATC about low fuel when ready to land, so hearing something like “we are low on fuel” isn’t worrying to them. However, if context is added with an urgent tone, that passive comment can also be seen as an emergency, and in the case of Avianca, it should’ve been taken as such.
If I could go back in time, the biggest thing I’d urge and stress on both the cockpit crew and ground control is to have crystal clear communication between both pilots, and between pilot and ground control. Chief engineer Earl Weener makes a comment saying “an airplane operated by two pilots communicating effectively is much safer than an airplane piloted by one person, with the co-pilot only being there as a backup”. With both pilots on the same page, communicating between each other and ground control makes for the safest of plane flights.