Frequently Asked Questions
The ICAO language proficiency requirements for pilot and controller communications were developed in the early 2000s in response to urgent evidence that inadequate English language proficiency contributed to unsafe conditions that resulted in several accidents and serious incidents. Among the most frequently cited events were the March 27, 1977, collision of two Boeing 747s on an airport runway in Tenerife, Canary Islands, that killed 583 people, and the Nov. 12, 1996, midair collision over northern India of a 747 and a Tupolev TU-154 that killed 349. Both accident reports cited the pilots’ poor English language skills.
ICAO’s requirements — set forth in Document 9835, Manual on the Implementation of ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements, first published in 2004 —were based on research into pilot-controller communications, as well as decades of practical training experience by organizations that participated in the ICAO Proficiency Requirements in Common English Study Group (PRICESG). While our awareness of the multidimensional role that English plays in this aspect of aviation safety is not new, a comprehensive understanding of language use in other aviation contexts is less mature and not well supported with hard evidence or research. In fact, implementation of ICAO language proficiency requirements came after an approximately 40-year push within the industry for greater awareness of human factors in aviation.
Why ICAO English ?
Within the field of human factors, communication is frequently referenced and widely acknowledged to be fundamental. Nearly all human factors textbooks and manuals identify communication as a critical element of safe operations, citing both first-language and second-language interactions as contributory factors to numerous accidents and incidents .The “gap between theory and practice is wider in radio communication procedures than in any other facet of aviation.” says Earl Wiener and David C. Nagel, in the first edition of their pioneering "Human Factors in Aviation". Nearly 25 years later, communication gaps remain apparent, particularly if you consider a threat and error management perspective to include not only radio communications but also flight crew communications, maintenance communications, and communications during flight training.
Communications and Human Factors
The solution to the issue of how to adequately address what constitutes language use and language proficiency in speaking, listening, reading and writing outside of the scope for pilot-controller communication includes developing more harmonized, valid and reliable Teaching tools and protocols to make sure pilots have adequate language proficiency for not just operational ICAO Level 4 radiotelephony, but for effective communication in all aspects of their work.Therefore, English Studies for ICAO has become not only a matter of good choice of tutors as well as english teaching methodology. An experienced teacher or school may hold the solution to particular individual or group of individuals but hardly for everyone. English Fluency levels may vary and accordingly these are points to be carefully accounted while choosing a study approach. Proper English teaching on how to better develop communication,understanding,speaking listening, teaching and language knowledge is essencial.
English Studies as a Solution
The first significant change comes from what is acknowledged as spectacular growth in the aviation industry in parts of Asia , Brazil, Russia and South Africa. Aviation operations have changed dramatically, most notably in the number of multicultural and multilingual airline flight crews, also across Europe and the Americas.
The aviation industry is no longer one in which English as a first language is dominant. It has shifted to a context in which aviation operations that occur in multicultural contexts are the norm and in which English-as-a-second-language predominates. English spoken as a foreign language is no longer simply a matter of pilot and controller communications; it is the medium of considerable CRM communication and flight training. Yet most aviation safety and training literature still targets an English-as-a-first language audience.Language use and language proficiency affect aviation communication in many, varied and profound ways. Effective teamwork cannot occur without effective communication. Effective communication rarely occurs without language, either spoken or written. Sexton and Helmreich note that “problem-solving communications are the verbal embodiment of threat and error management in the cockpit.”5 Language is the foundation upon which threat and error management is constructed.