English is Now the Mandated International Language of Aviation
The International Civil Aviation Organisation has decreed that from 1 January 2008 all Air Traffic Controllers and Flight Crew Members engaged in or in contact with international flights must be proficient in the English language as a general spoken medium and not simply have a proficiency in standard ICAO Radio Telephony Phraseology.
This has important implications for all aircrew and controllers. Those who do not have proficiency must acquire it by that date or risk removal from international flight routes.
Below is an extract from an official ICAO document which details the level of proficiency required:
Amendment 164 to Annex 1 has introduced strengthened language proficiency requirements for flight crew members and air traffic controllers. The language proficiency requirements apply to any language used for radiotelephony communications in international operations. Therefore, pilots on international flights shall demonstrate language proficiency in either English or the language used by the station on the ground. Controllers working international services shall demonstrate language proficiency in English as well as in any other language(s) used by the station on the ground.
For more information, please refer to Annex 1, Chapter 1, paragraph 1.2.9 and Attachment to Annex 1, and also to Annex 10, Volume II, Chapter 5. Please see also the FAQ "Interim Guidance on the Evaluation of Language Competency".
Is there any Guidance Material from ICAO on Language Proficiency Requirements?
A manual addressing the various training and evaluation issues related to the implementation of the ICAO language proficiency Standard, is in preparation and should be published in the first part of 2004. Pending the publication of the manual, interim guidance on the evaluation of language proficiency is made available.
Are all Members of the Flight Crew Required to Meet the Language Proficiency Requirements?
All pilots shall meet the language proficiency requirements when they fly internationally. The provisions contained in Annex 10 (Chapter 5, former paragraphs 184.108.40.206.3 and 220.127.116.11.4), which were allowing use of interpreters, have been removed.
Interim Guidance on the Evaluation of Language Proficiency
Why is it important to initiate evaluation of language proficiency rapidly?
While the formal evaluation of language proficiency is only required as of 5 March 2008, there are good reasons to start formal evaluation of language proficiency much earlier:
What should be the scope and depth of the evaluation?
The scope of the evaluation is the "speaking and listening ability" which is specified in Annex 1 for pilots and air traffic controllers. The depth of the evaluation is defined by the Holistic Descriptors and the Standards for Operational Level 4.
Proficient speakers shall:
ICAO Rating Scale for Operational Level 4
A speaker is proficient to Operational Level 4 if the ratings for the following criteria are:
For information on the complete ICAO language proficiecy rating scale, please refer to the Attachment to Annex 1.
Do native speakers need to be evaluated and how?
Native speakers need to be evaluated. However, in this case, it is possible to use an informal process similar to that which is routinely used today to ensure that applicants do not have a speech impediment that would affect their capacity to operate safely. This sort of informal assessment can also be extended to non-native language assessment at the highest, or Expert, levels. This is because native speakers can easily identify other speakers with native and/or "Expert" language proficiency through fluent and natural use of the language. Similarly, completely inadequate proficiency is also relatively easy to identify.
In practice, language proficiency assessment for native and/or "Expert" speakers can consist of a brief interview with a representative from the Licensing Authority such as a flight examiner, which is usually sufficient. If a problem is noticed (speech impediment or inappropriately strong regional accent) during such an interview, the applicant should be referred to a specialist for follow-through.
What is the best evaluation method?
In any large scale-testing situation, it is accepted that the best practice is to permit a number of test/assessment options. For non-native language assessment, formal evaluation can currently include any of the following:
The format of the formal assessment will be determined by the State, but the upcoming ICAO manual on language competency will provide specific suggestions on how States can assess the suitability and reliability of testing solution that would be proposed by the industry.
Are there any tests already available?
Currently there are no effective aviation-specific language tests for pilots and only one from EUROCONTROL for controllers. Efforts to develop appropriate and commercially available aviation-specific testing instruments have already begun and it is expected that more aviation-specific test options will soon be available.
Commercially available English knowledge test such as TOEFL is not appropriate for the purpose of testing English competency for pilot and air traffic controller. The main reason is that those tests have not been designed for testing the "speaking and listening ability" required by Annex 1.
What are the applicability dates of the Standards on language proficiency?
Amendment 164 to Annex 1 on language proficiency becomes applicable on 27 November 2003. However, the application of Article 42 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation and the fact that some elements of the amendment have a deferred applicability date is creating a progressive application of the Standards which is summarized below:
Aeronautical station operators: Same as for air traffic controllers.
Flight navigators: Same as for aeroplane and helicopter pilots if the flight navigator is required to use the radiotelephone aboard an aircraft.
Glider and free balloon pilots and flight engineers: There is no language proficiency Standard applicable to these categories of personnel. However, Annex 1, Chapter 1, paragraph 18.104.22.168 contains a Recommendation that reads: "Flight engineers, glider and free balloon pilots should have the ability to speak and understand the language used for radiotelephony communications.".
In what Intervals Shall Language Proficiency Be Demonstrated?
The ICAO Standards on language proficiency require that aeroplane and helicopter pilots, air traffic controllers and aeronautical station operators who demonstrate proficiency below the Expert Level (Level 6) shall be formally evaluated at intervals in accordance with an individual's demonstrated proficiency level. The interval will have to be established by each Civil Aviation Authority. ICAO is recommending an interval of six years for those at the Extended Level (Level 5) and three years for those at the Operational Level (Level 4).
The following are links to a series of articles by individuals or organisations who are involved in the field of English as it is used in the aviation domain:
http://www.vnv-dalpa.com/opdebok/2003/20031001.html (Elizabeth Mathews member of the Price Study group responsible for drawing up the new English language Standards)
http://www.eurocontrol.int/humanfactors/pela.html (The Pela Test for Air Traffic Controllers)
http://www.airnavnews.lv/en/reader/issue/Brian_Day.pdf (Brian Day member of the Price Study Group)