Aviation English Research Project:  Data Analysis Findings and Best Practice Recommendations


Management Summary

This independent report (CAP 1375) commissioned by the UK CAA investigates pilot – air traffic controller communication issues as evidenced by Mandatory Occurrence Reports (MORs), and proposes best practices to reduce miscommunication affected by substandard International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) language proficiency.


The key problems identified by this investigation are:

  • Readback-hearback errors (by both UK and non-UK pilots and controllers);
  • Call sign confusion (by both UK and non-UK pilots and controllers);
  • Language proficiency below ICAO minimum standard (non-UK pilots and controllers);
  • Situational awareness reduced due to multilingual radiotelephony (RT), multiple language used and heard on the radio;
  • Non-standard phraseology use (by both native and non-native English speakers);
  • Grounds to suspect cheating on aviation English exams;
  • Grounds to suspect that some non-native English speakers are not being tested, but instead are granted ICAO Level 4 certificates on ‘sweetheart’ deals (handshakes, via friends, etc.);
  • ICAO levels of language proficiency, especially Level 4, are not robust enough to ensure appropriately clear pilot / controller communication;
  • Poor MOR / language-related reporting culture and underreporting of language proficiency issues by UK pilots and controllers.


The key recommendations of this report are:

  1. Increased emphasis in the UK on the importance of reporting language related miscommunication issues to airlines, the CAA, and CHIRP. Stress that language-related miscommunication issues are as important to aviation safety as any other issue (e.g., mechanical, turbulence, disruptive passengers, etc.);
  2. Work with ICAO Member States to agree that English becomes the language of aviation used in all radiotelephony communications when there is a reasonable expectation that it might be of safety benefit to international traffic irrespective of country or local language;
  3. Work with European national aviation authorities to reduce language related miscommunication between UK pilots and controllers based in continental Europe;
  4. Increase language testing spot checks and expand SAFAs to include language assessment, to ensure non-UK pilots’ levels of English proficiency actually match what their ICAO certificates of proficiency state;
  5. Continue working with airlines and EASA to reduce cases of similar callsigns operating on similar routes and same radio frequencies;
  6. Increase vigilance with pilot and controller readback / hearback. Ensure all participants in radiotelephony communication fully understand the messages that speakers are trying to communicate through measures such as training;
  7. Emphasise to pilots and controllers, especially native English speakers, the importance of using ICAO standard phraseology (instead of ‘plain language’) whenever possible;
  8. Relevant national aviation authorities should ensure that no coaching, prompts, or other form of cheating occurs during ICAO Language Proficiency Level certification pilot and controller exams;
  9. ICAO language proficiency levels need revising or improving. Current ICAO Level 4 allows for some level of misunderstanding, the evidence is that this safety risk should be managed more effectively. There should be no room for lack of language proficiency in international aviation.


Report by Dr. Barbara Clark, founder of You Say Tomato
21 March, 2017

READ  the full report at UK CAA website


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