ICAO's English Language Proficiency Requirements
In 1997 ICAO recognized the importance of improving communication between pilots and air traffic controllers in order to avoid accidents.
The Air Navigation Commission (ANC) reviewed the existing provisions for air-ground and ground-ground voice communication in the international civil aviation context. The ANC made changes to strengthen ICAO Annexes 1, 6, 10, 11 about language proficiency requirements for pilots and air traffic controllers.
Changes to ICAO’s English Language Proficiency Requirements
Annex 1 describes the language proficiency and testing requirements. Annex 1 also contains a language proficiency rating scale with six proficiency levels. Finally, Annex 1 describes how language proficiency will affect personnel licensing.
Annexes 6 and 11 establish that all pilots and air traffic controllers must comply with the ICAO language proficiency requirements outlined in Annex 1. Thus pilots and air traffic personnel must be proficient in both ICAO phraseology and plain English.
Implications of the Changes for the Aviation Industry
All speakers of English must demonstrate a minimum English language proficiency at ICAO Level 4 (Operational) in order to be fully licensed internationally.
Air traffic personnel will be required to take a test to determine their English language proficiency according to the ICAO proficiency scale. Personnel will need to demonstrate ability to use the language specific to all aspects of radio telephony communication.
Personnel who demonstrate English language proficiency at
- ICAO Level 6 (Expert) will not be required to demonstrate English language proficiency in the future.
- ICAO Level 5 (Extended) will need to be retested every six years.
- ICAO Level 4 (Operational) will need to be retested every three years.
- ICAO Level 3 or below will need specific Aviation English language training to reach the minimum ICAO Operational Level.
Member states that do not comply with the new licensing requirements will be required to notify ICAO. Non-compliance may limit the international recognition of the licenses of aviation personnel.
Deadline for Meeting the New ICAO English Language Proficiency Requirements
The new ICAO standards became applicable in November 2003. ICAO member states have until March 2011 to train their personnel to meet the testing and licensing standards. All member states need to ensure that their aviation personnel achieve the minimum ICAO Level 4 (Operational) proficiency in English by March 2011.