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New edition of English for Aircraft

EFA handbook

Editions Belin are publishing a new edition of the two volumes of English for Aircraft in the autumn of 2015. It continues to be very popular among teachers of technical English. It can be obtained from the publisher (vpc@editions-belin.fr / graham.bushnell@editions-belin.fr) or through Amazon.

Estonian Academy orders docWise

Academy logo

Eesti Lennuakadeemia, the Estonian Aviation Academy, ordered a docWise software operating licence in October 2015.

Avianca joins the docWise users’ club

Austrian National Defence Academy

We should like to welcome Avianca, the Colombian flag carrier, to the club of nearly 50 airlines, training centers, technical colleges, MROs, universities and air forces which use the docWise CBT program to train their technicians in the efficient use of English language documentation.

Users update to 64-bit version

Several more docWise users have updated to the 64-bit version which enables the program to be run on the latest Windows OS.

Rater training in Vienna

Austrian National Defence Academy

In January 2014, Philip Shawcross delivered a three-day advanced rater training course and workshop to the staff of the Austrian National Defence Academy in Vienna to support their linguistic and operational experts in the application of the ICAO Rating Scale and Holistic Descriptors.

Advanced technical English at Le Bourget

Dassault Falcon Service

In December 2013, David Edwards delivered the new EFA Advanced Technical English intensive course to a group of maintenance technicians at the Le Bourget facility of Dassault Falcon Service.

Training packages for AMTs in Finland

Finnish Air Force

In the Autumn of 2013 English for Aircraft (UK) provided the Finnish Air Force with courseware and teachers’ notes for three 60-hour technical English courses to train its aircraft maintenance technicians specialised in three professional areas: aircraft systems, structural repair and engine maintenance and overhaul.

MRO language proficiency in Brazil

Language proficiency tests for the English used in aircraft maintenance have been developed in all 4 skill areas (technical reading, writing, listening comprehension and speaking) and delivered to DAS Sorcaba in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Flightpath used by ATCOs in Iraq

Cambridge University Press has supplied copies of Flightpath to the Iraq Air Navigation Service Provider; the book is being used to teach their controllers to reach and maintain ICAO Level 4

Aviation English teacher training for THK University in Turkey

English for Aircraft delivered a two-part, 70-hour teacher training course for 14 Aviation English teachers in Turk Hava Kurumu (THK) University in Ankara, Turkey, in December 2012 and January 2013.

Recurrent rater training for Jordan’s QUEEN NOOR CIVIL AVIATION TECHNICAL COLLEGE


In December 2012 we delivered remotely a recurrent language proficiency rater training course for the raters of Queen Noor Civil Aviation Technical College in Amman.

Language proficiency tests for technicians at French Aircraft Maintenance Organisation

-With a view to setting up a reliable, rational and safety-based system of monitoring for their technicians, Dassault Falcon Service has commissioned us to create a series of English language proficiency tests for their technicians in several branches of activity: aircraft system maintenance, workshop overhaul, structural repair and planning.


A personal view of ICAO Language Proficiency Requirement implementation

The present paper is intended to clarify the origins, objectives and conditions of implementation of the ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements (LPR) with a view to assisting effective and appropriate policy-making decisions as regards Aviation English training and testing.

  1. Background to ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements (LPR)
  2. LPR applicability
  3. ICAO Rating scale and operational Level 4
  4. Reference documents
  5. ICAO support for LPR implementation
  6. Unregulated professions in a regulated industry
  7. Aviation English training objectives
  8. Aviation English training characteristics
  9. Aviation English teacher profiles
  10. Proficiency test development
  11. Other areas of aviation in which English is required
  12. Conclusions

1. Background to ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements (LPR)
ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) is the international United Nations agency based in Montreal which regulates civil aviation worldwide. The agency was founded by the Chicago Convention of 1944 to which a series of “Annexes” on specific areas has been added over time. Like the United Nations, it consists of a plenary Assembly of 190 member States, a Council and various Commissions. Its regulations take the form of “Standards” which are legally binding and “Recommended Practices”.
Several catastrophic aviation accidents in which inadequate radio telecommunication in English was a contributing factor, and most significantly the mid-air collision between a Kazakhstan Ilyushin II-76 and a Saudi B747 near New Delhi in 1996, led to ICAO Assembly Resolution A32-16 “in which the Council was urged to direct the Air Navigation Commission to consider this matter with a high degree of priority and complete the task of strengthening relevant ICAO provisions concerning language requirements.” (Doc. 9835)
Three ways in which language could be a contributing factor to accidents or incidents were identified:

  • Incorrect use of standardised phraseology;
  • Lack of plain language proficiency; and
  • The use of more than one language in the same airspace.

As a result, ICAO decided to set up the Proficiency Requirements In Common English Study Group (PRICESG), an international group of linguistic and operational experts whose recommendations resulted in amendments to ICAO Annexes 1, 6, 10 and 11 (see Doc. 9835 ch. 4 and Appendix A), the ICAO Rating Scale and holistic descriptors being published in March 2003.
These new Standards and Recommended Practices transformed the ad hoc use of English as the lingua franca of aviation into an international legal requirement.
The aim of the ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements is to improve SAFETY in aviation.

2. LPR applicability
ICAO is an international legislator whose legitimacy is based upon the consensus of its 190 member States, however, each sovereign national Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is responsible for enforcing the requirements embodied in the Standards and Recommended Practices within its airlines and air navigation service provider through its own national (or European Union) legislation and posting its degree of compliance with the requirements through the ICAO FSIX website.
Within the national authority, the personnel licensing department is responsible for ensuring that pilots and air traffic controllers are tested at the specified intervals through valid and reliable tests and that their professional licences are correctly endorsed.
It has been observed that in many cases the national authority has insufficient in-house expertise in terms of language proficiency and that this has made them vulnerable to adopting inappropriate aviation language training and testing solutions and providers.
The March 2011 deadline is now passed, but several large States such as China and Russia are still not fully compliant and the industry is increasingly aware of the need for recurrent training in order to maintain and improve standards. Moreover, proficiency testing practice varies greatly and many professionals who are supposed to be ‘Level 4’ are in fact not.

Since 5th March 2011 all pilots and controllers must have their licences endorsed with at least Level 4 proficiency. Nevertheless, while performing 11,719 random inspections of flight crew licences between 1st January 2010 and 31st January 2011 the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft (SAFA) inspectors found 679 cases where there was no English Language Proficiency (ELP) endorsement or an endorsement below Level 4.
In their report, EASA stated that ‘In certain cases it was identified that, although pilots have the ELP (English Language Proficiency) endorsed in their licence with the required level, the communication between inspectors and crew was very difficult, raising doubts about the effectiveness of the ELP examination.’

3. ICAO Rating scale and operational Level 4
The ICAO Language Proficiency Rating Scale is attached to the 2003 version of Annex 1 of the Chicago Convention and is explained with holistic descriptors in Chapter 4 of ICAO Document 9835 (see 4 below). The Requirements state (Annex 1 – 1. General and 2. Holistic Descriptors) that all licence holders shall demonstrate compliance with the five Holistic Descriptors:
Proficient speakers shall:
a) communicate effectively in voice-only (telephone/radiotelephone) and in face-to-face situations;
b) communicate on common, concrete and work-related topics with accuracy and clarity;
c) use appropriate communicative strategies to exchange messages and to recognise and resolve misunderstandings (e.g. to check, confirm, or clarify information) in general or work-related context;
d) handle successfully and with relative ease the linguistic challenges presented by a complication or unexpected turn of events that occurs within the context of a routine work situation or communicative task which they are otherwise familiar; and
e) use a dialect or accent which is intelligible to the aeronautical community.
and ICAO Operational Level 4 as specified in the Rating Scale. Level 4 (on a scale from 1 to 6) is the minimum level of proficiency for pilots and controllers to demonstrate. 

All those at ICAO Operational Level 4 should be retested every 3 years and those at Extended Level 5 every six years. Currently, there is no requirement for those at Level 6 to be retested, but this position has been challenged by certain Authorities.

4. Reference documents
ICAO Document 9835 (2nd edition, 2010) Manual on the Implementation of ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements contains the basic information for LPR implementation:
A thorough and in-depth understanding of the second edition of Doc. 9835 is the prerequisite for any involvement in language proficiency training or testing for the aviation industry. It consists of:

  • The safety case for introducing international aviation LPRs (ch. 1)
  • An introduction to language proficiency and acquisition (ch. 2)
  • Aeronautical Radiotelephony communications (ch. 3)
  • ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices concerning LPRs, the Rating Scale and holistic descriptors (ch. 4)
  • Language Proficiency Requirement implementation (ch. 5)
  • Language Testing Criteria for global harmonisation - originally ICAO Circular 318 (ch. 6)
  • Language Proficiency Training (ch. 7)
  • The texts of the relevant ICAO regulations, i.e. ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices in Annexes 1 (personnel licensing), 6 operation of aircraft), 10 (aeronautical communications) and 11 (air traffic services) of the Chicago Convention and the ICAO Language Proficiency Rating Scale (Appendix A)
  • Communicative language functions, events, domains and tasks association with aviation (Appendix B)
  • Checklist for Aviation Language Testing – originally in Circular 318 (Appendix C)
  • Aviation language qualifications (Appendix D)
  • Modern language training methods (Appendix E)
  • Additional resources (Appendix F)

For further information on aeronautical communications and standard phraseology, see:
ICAO Doc. 4444 (15th edition 2007) Air Traffic Management
ICAO Doc. 9432 (4th edition 2007) Manual of Radiotelephony

For a more detailed presentation of the requirements of aviation English training, see:
ICAO Circular 323 (2009) Guidelines for Aviation English Training Programmes

  • Aviation English training design and development
  • Aviation English training delivery
  • Aviation English trainer profiles and background
  • Aviation English teacher training

For information about human factors and safety management in aviation, see:

  • ICAO Doc. 9683 (2010) Human Factors Training Manual
  • ICAO Doc. 9859 (2nd edition 2009) Safety Management Manual

For information about the nature of compliance of the various States, see:

  • ICAO FSIX (Flight Safety Information eXchange) website: http://legacy.icao.int/fsix/lp.cfm

5. ICAO support for LPR implementation
ICAO has supported the implementation process through:

  • Two international Language Proficiency symposia (Montreal 2004 & 2007)
  • The publication of Doc. 9835, Circulars 318 (now incorporated into the 2010 edition of Doc. 9835) and Circular 323
  • A succession of State letters
  • Articles in the ICAO Journal
  • Many regional workshops, especially in the European / North Atlantic region
  • A Rated Speech Sample Training Aid developed in collaboration with the International Civil Aviation English Association (ICAEA www.icaea.pansa.pl) and available from the ICAO website
  • A test endorsement process to promote higher standards of testing practice http://www.icao-aelte.org/
  • The ICAO FSIX website to monitor States’ compliance http://legacy.icao.int/fsix/lp.cfm

6. Unregulated professions in a regulated industry
Aviation is a highly regulated industry. This regulation is designed to ensure safety, and, indeed, aviation is statistically among the safest forms of transport, which leads the world in development of safety management, human factors research such as that by James Reason, auditing, accident investigation, professional medicine etc.
The Language Proficiency Requirements were introduced by ICAO to enhance safety. Paradoxically, however, the tools required to achieve this proficiency, i.e. aviation English training and aviation English testing are totally unregulated professions.

IFALPA (International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations) and ICAO representatives and some academic observers have repeatedly pointed out that many language training and testing providers with insufficient aviation experience or understanding jumped on what was believed to be a lucrative bandwagon after 2003. Moreover, civil aviation authorities and industry decision-makers often do not have sufficient in-house expertise to distinguish valid and effective solutions from those which are not.

As regards testing, the ICAO test endorsement process, which became operational in January 2012, will over time enable a list of reliable tests to be drawn up and, hopefully, tend to drive testing standards upwards and discourage the many inadequate tests on the market today.

While there are language school accreditation bodies such as the British Council, English UK, ACCET etc., it is important to remember that none of them has the required expertise to provide accreditation for aviation English courses or schools or testing services.

National authorities accredit Flight Training Organisations (FTOs) and these FTOs have the requisite operational knowledge and know-how, but not necessarily the linguistic expertise, to develop suitable training and testing programs.

Until after 2003, there were very few experienced aviation English teachers or course developers in the commercial sector. Most specialised teachers worked exclusively for flight training centres, airlines, Air Traffic Control and some national aviation colleges and institutes. Since 2003, aviation English has been seen as a potentially lucrative market and many general English and ESP schools have jumped on the bandwagon. This is reflected in a lot of the teaching practice and teaching materials used today. Operational aviation is a remarkably complex field, and years of experience are required for language teachers to acquire any credibility in it.

7. Aviation English training objectives
Aviation language proficiency training and testing are high stakes in terms of the safety of the travelling public, the careers of aviation professionals, and airline economics. Aviation language professionals, whose activity is still unregulated, and often still growing towards maturity, have a duty to provide pilots and controllers with training which reflects the requirements, functions and constraints of operational situations. This will be quite different from conventional academic and theoretical teaching practice, and nor should it be ‘teaching to the test’.
The language which is targeted should be essentially oral and communicative and be based largely upon those communicative operational tasks, functions and events listed in Appendix B of ICAO Doc. 9835, such as clarifying, asking and answering about expected events and dialogue management. Only in this way will pilots and controllers be effectively and efficiently prepared to handle safely the unexpected situations which may occur in their working life.
For more detailed information on aviation English objectives, see ICAO Circular 323 pp. 1-2.

8. Aviation English training characteristics
Given the specifics of the conditions of its use and the high stakes involved, aviation English is not just another branch of ESP (English for Specific Purposes). Indeed, aviation English is more about performing operationally-specific communicative functions in English than learning the English language.
Aviation English training should be:

  • Communicative to develop interaction
  • Oral, as writing and reading skills are not included in ICAO Language Proficiency
  • Content-based and work-related both in lexical and functional terms
  • Proficiency-oriented to develop skills rather than knowledge
  • Designed within an operational context and taking into account the ability to switch codes between formulaic standard phraseology and plain language
  • Learner-centred for relevance, effectiveness and motivation


and reflect the skills pyramid found in Doc. 9835 in which the ‘foundation’ skills support the properly interactive oral skills. 


It is often said about language that you must ‘use it or lose it’, i.e. that language erosion (attrition, decay) is well documented phenomenon. Someone who is tested ‘Level 4’ one day will probably no longer be Level 4 two and a half years later if the only use of English has been in routine situations, phraseology and booking into a hotel. Moreover, language proficiency – even in one’s own native language – tends to drop dramatically when one is placed under stress as in an abnormal or emergency situation. So, after 30 months of only routine use of English, a ‘Level 4’ pilot or controller in a stressful situation might actually be performing as a low Level 3 or high Level 2 speaker. This phenomenon points to the necessity of first of all reaching a ‘robust’ Level 4, working in a linguistically supportive environment and then following regular recurrent training.
Aviation English training is definitely not ESP with an aviation flavour.
For further information, see ICAO Circular 323 chapters 1 and 2.

9. Aviation English teacher profiles
Aviation English teachers require:

  • Basic qualifications as EFL teachers (see Doc. 9835 Appendix D), i.e. graduate diploma or university degree in TEFL
  • Prior experience in another area of ESP
  • Familiarity with the operational environment of aviation
  • In-depth knowledge of Doc. 9835
  • Familiarity with ICAO Rated Speech Sample Training Aid
  • Ability to prioritise communicational effectiveness over grammatical accuracy and native-speaker pronunciation
  • Commitment to a fully communicative approach to language learning
  • Cultural and cross-cultural sensitivity
  • Desire to learn about all aspects of aviation
  • Ability to work as a facilitator in order to prioritise student speech production
  • Awareness of specific operational objectives and functions
  • Awareness of the distinction between standard phraseology and plain language
  • Awareness of those aspects of the language which may be critical in abnormal situations

For further information on Aviation English teacher profiles, see ICAO Circular 323 chapter 3.

10. Proficiency test development
The characteristics of aviation English proficiency testing and test development are described in some detail in Chapter 6 and Appendix C of ICAO Doc. 9835.
Just as the criteria of the ICAO Rating Scale are specific, so the characteristics of aviation English proficiency testing are specific; no overall equivalence can be established with other testing systems such as IELTS, TOEFL etc.
A study of many proficiency tests developed in various parts of the world and used for licensing purposes indicates that Test Service Providers (TSPs) have often not fully understood or complied with the requirements laid down in Doc. 9835.
Test development is a long and demanding process which requires:

  • A team of highly qualified, full-time staff with operational aviation expertise (subject matter experts), language test development qualifications, aviation English and linguistic expertise
  • Compliance with all the items in the checklist in Appendix C of Doc. 9835
  • Rationale of test constructs
  • Rigorous means to ensure and document test validity and reliability
  • Extensive trialling with adequate and appropriate cohorts
  • High levels of security and test administration
  • Thorough rater and interlocutor initial and recurrent training
  • Development of many calibrated and trialled versions of the test and test items
  • Long-term recording and record-keeping
  • Non-falsifiable test certificates
  • Sample test and a description of the test procedure on the test website
  • Continuous quality control and maintenance

As the IFALPA representative pointed out in paragraph 6 above, these characteristics are very often lacking.
In practical terms, the development of a proficiency test for the aviation industry requires something in the order of 18 months to 2 years work by a team of testing experts, operational subject matter experts, a project manager and aviation English item writers.
The current ICAO test endorsement process (http://www.icao-aelte.org/) is designed to promote best practice in this very high-stakes application of proficiency testing, provide constructive feedback to TSPs, raise awareness of what constitutes good testing practice in the aviation and academic communities and, under the effects of peer pressure, gradually eliminate the use of sub-standard tests.
Aviation (CAAs, airlines, ANSPs) and academic (university, language schools, TSPs) leaders and decision-makers often still need to enhance their understanding of the LPRs as presented in Doc. 9835 and acquire a greater awareness of the criteria by which aviation English training and testing are to be assessed in order to make appropriate, effective, sustainable and cost-effective decisions.

11. Other areas of aviation in which English is required
The ICAO LPRs presented above focus largely on pilot-controller radio communications. However, flight crew undertake other types of oral communication where there is a safety impact, especially in today’s multi-cultural working environment: pilot-to-pilot with its effects on Crew Resource Management (CRM), pilot to cabin crew, pilot to passengers and pilot to ground staff during turnaround.
Other professions engage in ‘aviation English’ in different ways, with different skill sets and in different environments, usually in less regulated conditions: cabin attendants, meteorological officers, dispatchers and aircraft maintenance technicians (AMTs). AMTs are subject to FAA and EASA regulations as far as language is concerned, and ICAO is envisaging studying requirements for all these professions especially within the context of the next generation of aviation professionals (http://www.icao.int/safety/ngap/Pages/default.aspx).

12. Conclusions
In order to achieve the implementation of the ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements worldwide, there is a need for Aviation English trainers and test providers, and those involved in decision-making:

  • to be better informed about the objectives and content of LPR
  • to have first hand familiarity with operational aviation and communication
  • to be committed, scrupulous and professional in the development and delivery of their training programmes and testing services

and for Authorities:

  • to acquire suitable aviation language expertise
  • to avoid box-ticking and complacency in the implementation of LPR
  • to be committed to the spirit, and not just the letter, of ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices with a systematic attention to improve safety.

docWise users upgrade to Windows 7 compatible version

Several docWise users have decided to obtain the new version of the docWise program which is compatible with Windows 7 64-bit OS

New docWise user

The Lycée Jean Taris, a technical college near Bordeaux in France, has just ordered the docWise program, bringing to five the number of French technical colleges using docWise to train their aircraft engineering students.








Improving communication
skills in Aviation English

technical language training

instructors and learners

Creating effective evaluation tools


Training teachers
and facilitators

Linking language, management,
human factors and
the working



... wherever English is used as a working tool