Who needs to study Aviation English?


Pilots, Air Traffic Controllers and all others who use English in R/T communication on international routes must have reached ICAO English Language Level 4 (Operational) since March 5, 2008 - confirmed by successful completion of an ICAO compliant proficiency test.

It is widely accepted that pilots and air traffic controllers from Non English Speaking Backgrounds (NESBs) have adequate knowledge, production and understanding of radio phraseology in routine situations.

However in non- routine, emergency situations, standard phraseology does not suffice and plain English is reverted to. It is in these situations where the secure use of a common language can be crucial to surviving an emergency.



Extract from : ICAO Document 9835

“The purpose of the ICAO language proficiency requirements is to ensure that the language proficiency of pilots and air traffic controllers is sufficient to reduce miscommunication as much as possible and to allow pilots and controllers to recognize and solve potential miscommunication when it does occur.

In short, language should be a tool to identify and help solve a potential problem before it becomes a disaster, rather than being one more attention-demanding obstacle. Rather than language playing a contributing role, the object of ICAO language proficiency requirements is for language to play a problem-alleviating or problem-avoiding role.

The ICAO language proficiency requirements cannot completely eliminate all sources of miscommunication in radiotelephony communications. Rather, the goal is to ensure, as far as possible, that all speakers have sufficient language proficiency to handle non-routine situations.

It is unlikely that communication errors will ever be completely eliminated; however, compliance with the ICAO language proficiency requirements will enable speakers to more readily recognize errors and work towards the successful and safe resolution of misunderstandings.”   - Doc 9835 AN/453

Background Information

Insufficient English language proficiency, both in comprehension and expression, has resulted in incident and accident reports throughout the world of civil aviation.

Following a number of major accident investigations that indicated lack of English proficiency as a contributing factor, in 1997, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) set about reviewing this critical problem with high priority.

ICAO is responsible for providing Standards that govern all aspects of international aviation and their review has resulted in an international requirement for all pilots and air traffic controllers to reach a demonstrate a minimum level of proficiency in the English language.

This minimum requirement is now compulsory for aviation radiotelephony since March 2008 and all pilots and air traffic controllers must meet this level and do so repeatedly throughout their careers.

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