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Home > Education > Are all pilots required to attain a Level 6 English proficiency?
Are all pilots required to attain a Level 6 English proficiency?
Pilot Career - Education
Saturday, 02 December 2006 05:54

Greetings Captain Lim,

Quick question to either squash or confirm a rumor in circulation around the airline industry?

Is it true that Singapore Airlines (as well as Singapore*s CAA) will require that pilots (and controllers) to attain ICAO Level 6 English proficiency prior to the March 2008 deadline?

Thanks Captain Lim, looking forward to your response.

Best regards,

Roger Mayer

Hi Roger,

It is indeed true that ICAO will soon make English proficiency mandatory for all pilots operating in International airspace (ICAO Doc 9835 AN/453). Yes, by March 5, 2008, pilots are graded in the ICAO format in 6 levels of English proficiency for air traffic communication. They will have to meet at least Level 4 of this spread. Those who do not make the grade will not be allowed to renew their Flying Licenses or at least have restrictions endorsed in their Licenses.

Generally, most pilots speak good English. However, there are a few who do not. This lack of English proficiency has surfaced recently when it was implicated in some air crashes.

Well, there is a common misconception that English is the ICAO official language for air traffic control. In reality, it is not - you can still listen to French, Chinese or Russian being spoken by pilots in their own countries. So, even though English has been "designated" as the international language of aviation, the inability of some pilots or controllers to communicate well using this medium has prompted ICAO to come up with this mandatory requirement.

Poor communications were cited as a factor in two air crashes ? the Avianca crash in New York and the American Airlines crash in Cali, Columbia (also featured in the National Geographical Air Crash Investigation series).

In the Avianca crash, there was a miscommunication as to how much fuel was left, resulting in the plane not getting the priority to land. As a result, it ran out of fuel and the plane plunged into a small village. Due to the lack of fuel, the aircraft did not burst into flames, probably saving the lives of the 85 survivors but leaving 73 passengers and crew dead.

The crew was reported to have asked for "priority" landing which, due to language differences in English and Spanish, was interpreted as an emergency to the Spanish-speaking pilots but not to the English-speaking Air Traffic Controllers.

In the Cali accident, an American Airlines Boeing 757 flew into a mountain, killing all but four of the 163 people on board. A controller was aware that the crew had passed an important point, but could not communicate the message to the crew in English. Had he been able to do so, it could have made the crew to be aware that they were turning into high grounds - a factor in helping to prevent the tragic accident.

So, what are Level 6 English proficiency? Well, amongst others, pilot*s language fluency are, ?able to speak at length with a natural, effortless flow? His vocabulary range and accuracy be ?sufficient to communicate effectively on a wide variety of familiar and unfamiliar topics? His ?pronunciation and intonation, though possibly influenced by the first language or regional variation, almost never interfere with ease of understanding?

Will Singapore Airlines (and CAAS) require their pilots (and controllers) to attain up to ICAO Level 6 English proficiency prior to the March 2008 deadline? I am sure they will follow the new ICAO ruling. (Yes, SIA pilots do indeed speak good English)


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Who would I get in touch with in order to find employment upgrading pilots and air traffic controllers' Aviation English in Singapore?

Amal , 31 May, 2014

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