Why there are English Language Proficiency Requirements For Pilots And Cabin Crew you wonder? In the years prior to English becoming the international standard for pilots there were more than a number of incidents related to poor communication and language barriers across the world. Some of these accidents resulted in fatalities, and one of the biggest accidents in aviation history was due to a simple miscommunication that could have been avoided if the pilots of different aircraft could understand each other.

So in March 2008 the ICAO’s new requirements became binding on all pilots and Air Traffic Controllers. This meant all the cabin crew and ATCs had to speak English in order to avoid additional accidents. However pilots who flew domestically or for short distances were not bound by these new regulations as the ICAO felt that they would not be endangering their passengers or themselves as a language barrier was unlikely to occur.

Those of you who have been dreaming about becoming pilots will already know that aviation English and radiotelephony communications are conducted in English. Meaning the commands and phraseology used between pilots and air traffic controllers was in English but in unique circumstances international pilots were unable to communicate with each other or air traffic control effectively. This more often than not resulted in a loss of life, as communication is paramount in aviation.

Do All International Pilots Have to Speak English?

Yes. On 1 January 2008 the International Civil Aviation Organisation decreed that all international air traffic controllers and cabin crew have to be proficient in the English language in general and not just be proficient on the standard ICAO Radio Telephony Phraseology. This was implemented to increase safety standards and help pilots understand each other as well as Air Traffic Controllers. Miscommunication and language barriers have contributed to a number of incidents and accidents in the past hence proficiency in the English Language was instituted to avoid this occuring in the future. Pilots have to undergo assessments to become licensed or to retain their licenses and need to prove a proficiency level of 4 or higher. Even native English speakers have to undergo this assessment though it won’t be as formal as the assessment for non-native speakers.

What is the International Language of Aviation?

The international language of aviation is English. Cabin crew members and air traffic controllers need to demonstrate a level of understanding and an ability to communicate in the language if they wish to become licensed or retain their licenses. All cabin crew members and Air Traffic Controllers need to prove their operational ability at Level 4 or higher to become licensed, they’ll then be re-evaluated in intervals depending on their level.

What is ICAO Language Level 4?

This is the basic comprehension level of English for international cabin crew and Air Traffic Controllers as required by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. In order for cabin crew members to become licensed or remain licensed they need to prove their proficiency in the English Language at a level 4 or higher. The scale for this rating looks at various aspects including:

  • Pronunciation
  • Structure
  • Vocabulary
  • Fluency
  • Comprehension, and
  • Interactions

What is the official language of Air Traffic Control?

According to the ICAO there isn’t an official language for Air Traffic Control, however Air Traffic Controllers need to be able to communicate in English with an ICAO operational level of 4 or above if they operate in an airport that has an international traffic. However regional airports without any international traffic may decide what language they choose to operate in. But in order to become licensed or retain their licenses Air Traffic Controllers have to prove that they can speak and understand the language used in radiotelephony communications.
In addition ATCs will be re-evaluated in intervals according to the proficiency they demonstrate.

Understanding and speaking English is important in retaining your ATC license but may not be the language you use on a day to day basis if you’re situated in a regional airport with no international traffic. It is also important for those who plan on becoming ATCs to have full knowledge on the language spoken for radiotelephony communication. In additional English should be able to be used on request at both regional and international airports.

If you plan on becoming a pilot or want to be part of air traffic control at an international airport then you need to improve your English language skills for this to be possible. To be licensed as either an ATC or a pilot you need to be able to understand, comprehend and communicate in English. So why not consider undertaking one of our programmes that should help you in this regard, and achieve your dream of joining the aviation industry.

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