In September 2003 the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a division within the United Nations, announced changes to provisions strengthening language proficiency requirements. These requirements came into effect from March 2008. These changes mean that for the first time, all pilots operating on international routes and all air traffic controllers who communicate with foreign pilots will need to have their English language proficiency formally assessed. The ICAO language proficiency requirement requires that pilots and air traffic controllers be able to communicate proficiently using both ICAO phraseology (ICAO Doc. 9832) and plain English (ICAO Doc. 9835).
ICAO has established six levels of language proficiency:
- ICAO Level 6: Expert
- ICAO Level 5: Extended
- ICAO Level 4: Operational
- ICAO Level 3: Pre-Operational
- ICAO Level 2: Elementary
- ICAO Level 1: Pre-Elementary
The minimum language level for licensing purposes is ICAO Level 4. To be assessed at ICAO Level 4 or above, a pilot or air traffic controller must achieve Level 4 in all six of the ICAO skill areas: Pronunciation, Structure, Vocabulary, Fluency, Comprehension and Interactions. In other words, if a test candidate is assessed as ICAO Level 4 in five of the six skill areas, but ICAO Level 3 in one area, then, according to the ICAO requirement, they are assessed as ICAO Level 3.
Where are the ICAO language proficiency requirements documented?
The strengthening of the provisions occurs as a result of changes to ICAO Standard and Recommended Practices (SARPs) in several Annexes:
Aeroplane and helicopter pilots, air traffic controllers and aeronautical station operators shall demonstrate the ability to speak and understand the language used for radiotelephony communications to the level specified in the language proficiency requirements in the Appendix.
Annex 1 also contains an Appendix: the ICAO six-band Language proficiency Rating Scale.
The Appendixstates that:The language proficiency requirements are applicable to the use of both phraseologies and plain English.
Operators shall ensure that flight crew members demonstrate the ability to speak and understand the language used for aeronautical radiotelephony communications as specified in Annex 1.
Operators shall ensure that flight crew members demonstrate the ability to speak and understand the language used for radiotelephony communications as specified in Annex 1.
ICAO standardised phraseology shall be used in all situations for which has been specified. Only when standardised phraseology cannot serve an intended transmission, plain language shall be used.
The air-ground radiotelephony communications shall be conducted in the language normally used by the station on the ground or in the English language.
The English language shall be available, on request from any aircraft station, at all stations on the ground serving designated airports and routes used by international air services.
An air traffic service provider shall ensure that air traffic controllers speak and understand the language(s) used for radiotelephony communications as specified in Annex 1.
The Manual on the Implementation of ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements
ICAO has published a guidance manual (Manual on the Implementation of ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements, Doc. 9835) to highlight the changes to the language requirements and provide the aviation industry with an overview of what the changes mean.
According to Doc. 9835 a language test used to assess language for the ICAO Language standards should:
- be aviation-specific (not assess general English proficiency) and be related to the language of radiotelephony which pilots and air traffic controllers use in their work
- assess language based on the criteria established in the ICAO Language Proficiency Rating Scale
- not assess a knowledge of phraseologies, but must assess communicative ability in both phraseology and plain Language
- assess speaking and listening skills directly (not assess language knowledge indirectly, or assess reading and writing ability).
ICAO also requires the personnel assessed at Level 4 and Level 5 be retested, at recommended intervals of 2 years of Level 4 and 6 years for Level 5.
What do the ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements mean for the aviation industry?
From March 2008 all 189 ICAO member States will need to demonstrate that personnel in their air traffic control organisations and international airlines have been assessed according to the new ICAO requirements. The standard is applicable to personnel from both native-speaking and non-native speaking countries.
ICAO requires that all member State regulatory authorities put in place regulations that are aligned to the ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements, including the endorsement of an appropriate proficiency test to satisfy licensing requirements.
International airlines and air traffic control providers will need to demonstrate that processes have been established to facilitate ICAO compliance for their staff.
Airlines and air traffic control authorities can prepare for the ICAO requirement by considering the following questions:
- What are the proficiency levels of our staff in relation to the ICAO requirement now?
- What can be done now to understand how the ICAO requirements will impact on our organisation?
- What proportion of our pilots/air traffic controllers are likely to achieve ICAO Levels 4, 5 or 6 by March 2008?
- What be done to help those staff who are likely be below ICAO Level 4?
- What does language training in aviation English involve to achieve higher rates of ICAO compliance?
- How can language training be done effectively and efficiently to minimise the impact on our organisation?
At PlaneTIme we can arrange English Language Examinations for pilots and air traffic controllers on an individual basis. Groups up to eight candidates are also welcome. Your English Language capabilities are tested in all the six field that are required by ICAO and you will be given a certificate to proof your English Level. This certificate is accepted by the national authorities and the achieved LPE level shall be endorsed in your license.
LPE levels are required for pilots and air traffic controllers which hold a valid license. These groups must take an English Language examination to have their level endorsed. Courses are available for those that do not require an endorsement but do occasionally use aviation frequencies to communicate. Airport operations officers, airline operations employees, dispatchers and others may follow our course. Once finished they are given a Certificate of Compliance.