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Advice about improving your Aviation English and passing an ICAO English test from Aviation English Asia . Article written by Michael James Egerton In this article we are going to look at past tenses, and how they can be used to indicate the sequence of events.  We will then look at an example of how they can be used to report an aviation incident, followed by some Aviation English exercises. Using past tenses correctly (and intelligibly so that people understand what you mean) is very important when working with checklists and when reporting information.  You will also find this exercise to be very useful if you have to report information about a video or recording as part of an ICAO English test. [caption id="attachment_317" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Learn English as it is used in an aviation context"]Learn English as it is used in an aviation context[/caption] Take a look at the following sentences:

  1. The captain told him to pull out the quick reference handbook and run the checklist.
  2. The aircraft had just leveled off at its cruise altitude of 35,000 ft. when the master caution lit up.
  3. The first officer did so and the flight proceeded uneventfully.
  4. The first officer canceled the warning, scanned the overhead panel, and said, “We have a bleed failure.”

Emergency and abnormal situations such as these occur onboard aircraft every day. They range from life- threatening and highly time-critical to mundane and relatively trivial. Sometimes these situations can be anticipated so pilots have checklists to help them.

Aviation English Exercise 1:

  • What tenses are used in each of the sentences?
  • What is the correct order of the sentences?
  • What clues are in each sentence to help you find the correct order?
  • What other "time phrases" are used?


There are two tenses used in the sentences above - past simple and past perfect. Here is a description of the function of each: Past simple is used to talk about

  • actions that are complete in the past - eg The first officer cancelled the warning
  • a specific time in the past (possibly at the same time as another event) - eg The aircraft was at 35,00 ft when the master caution lit up.
  • a sequence of events - eg He canceled the warning, scanned the overhead panel, and said, “We have a bleed failure.”

Past perfect is used to talk about

  • completed action in the earlier past - eg The aircraft had just levelled off at its cruise altitude of 35,000 ft. when the master caution lit up.
  • duration before something in the past

Aviation English Exercise 2:

Think about the procedures you would follow if there was a fire on board the aircraft.  Then consider how such an event could be reported.  Look at the following sentences and reorganise them into the correct order.  The correct answers will be posted on our Facebook Page Discussion Forum.

  1. Thick, black smoke billowed everywhere.
  2. Despite the reduced visibility in the cockpit and the loss of the displays and systems, the crew completed a successful emergency landing and all passengers were evacuated without injury.
  3. The long flight had been uneventful until the aircraft was 240 miles from its destination—then everything seemed to go wrong at once.
  4. Electrical systems began to fail and the glass cockpit displays flickered off and on randomly for over two minutes before going completely black.
  5. A small fire in the front galley could not be extinguished.

Aviation English Vocabulary

Make sure you are familiar with the following words:

billowed  visibility   evacuated   uneventful   flickered   extinguished

You should be able to guess their meaning from context, but if not you can also find their synonyms on the Facebook Page Discussion Forum.

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit We can help you improve your English whether you are an experienced pilot, a cadet entry pilot, a controller, aerospace engineer or flight attendant, with custom courses designed specifically for your needs. If you haven’t already please join the Aviation English mailing list for instant access to free demonstration units of the ICAO Aviation English Online course, special offers and details of courses in your area. Of course, feel free to leave a comment or even a suggestion for a future article. We value all of your feedback.

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