English learning advice from Aviation English Asia. Article written by Michael McBride In this article I will focus on the context of the ICAO recommended English language requirements. In other words, why have ICAO shown so much interest in English language proficiency. We will also look at various examples showing poor English skills that contributed to aviation incidents/accidents and then a quick look at what ICAO expects from you.
Do you know why you are here?
These should be fairly simple questions for you: Why are you in English language training? Who are you and what do you want to achieve? It goes without question that you should be here for the fundamental reason of preventing injury or even death in the sky or on the ground with intelligible and effective English skills. Despite some airlines having their own Aviation English tests, as do some language academies, the common goal is to make sure pilots/controllers can communicate effectively in routine and non-routine situations. Obviously a lack of English awareness could lead to an aviation incident or accident.
- Generally, an aviation incident is an event that results in injury or damage to people/aircraft or at least is a cause for concern eg. a near-miss.
- An accident usually means resulting fatalities from an aviation related event
Specific incidents/accidents showing lack of English communication
We will now look briefly at some aviation incidents/accidents, be aware that a lack of English skills was one factor in the problems that occurred.
- Heathrow LOT 282 incident (2007).
This incident is a recent example used by Aviation English instructors to show that a clear and effective use of English could resolve an issue quickly. From AAIB (2008) reports we are informed that the aircraft had navigational aid problems and pilots showed poor situational awareness, but also the responses by the crew to the English speaking ATC were practically unintelligible. Good communication would not have escalated the chain of problems and the crew showed a lack of even basic English competency, for example the commander reported position as “330” instead of the actual “030”. This could have been fatal but thankfully the aircraft eventually landed safely and was a recent ‘wake up’ call for all ICAO level 6 and lower Aviation personnel. Please study the AAIB report here
- New York Avianca 52 accident (1990)
This accident highlighted the problem of unsuitable AE lexis/vocabulary in alerting ATC of on-board problems. Not far from Kennedy International flight deck problems resulted in a command for “priority landing” rather than a much better “emergency” command given the seriousness of their situation. The captain and co-pilot did not ‘agree’ with the English commands, in other words there was little understanding in plain and phraseology English between them. One thought “emergency” was stated, rather than the less critical “priority landing.” Was there a Spanish-English translation issue here? Was it a lack of confidence and competency in English communication? For a transcript of the communication before this tragedy resulted please click here
ICAO outcomes and recommendations
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is the general authority in aviation, underneath their position of authority are national regulators, with international organisations, such as JAA and Eurocontrol feeding expertise and recommended practices into the national regulators and ICAO. The ICAO English requirements (level 4 etc) that you are studying for affect private pilots, commercial pilots, helicopter pilots and air traffic controllers. Implementation of ICAO recommended requirements for English Proficiency were originally set for 2008, but after this being unrealistic the date was changed to March 5th, 2011. This is the date you must target for level 4 proficiency. The overview of English proficiency as stated by ICAO is as follows: - “The English Language shall be available on request from any aircraft station on the ground or in the air.” Which means you must have the capability to respond in English even if in your ‘local’ airspace. “Clarify that both phraseology and plain English proficiency are required” As has been stated clearly in previous articles, you must be generally and on the whole effective in communicating phraseology and unexpected events, which may require plain/general English. ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements (September 2004) 9835 Document is seen in AE teaching as the guide to getting you at your required level of operation. The articles I have written take information from this master document.
ICAO gave a series of recommendations after the Avianca accident, for example, including setting a fixed language of terms. (ICAO, 1991) It must be clear that ICAO gives recommendations, not accreditation of assessment. Targeting the level you require is your first step with AE instruction, once you have obtained this after being tested by your airline or academy your English skills will become a long-term component of your career, with testing every 3 years if under ICAO level 6. Your instructor at Aviation English Asia will guide you through the ICAO recommended practices in your course. Remember you are interested in being intelligible, effective communicators for the majority of the time in both routine and unpredictable situations, using fixed phraseology and also plain English when required. It should remain one very important part of your aviation career.
- What is the difference between an incident and an accident?
- Must you speak English all the time on the radio?
- What basic English problems caused the Heathrow LOT 282 incident to be in the news?
- What, in your opinion, are the key words that describe ICAO level 4?
- How will you be tested?
- Evaluate your next step, what are the most important reasons for your training?
What to do next
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