Human factor in aviation is one of the most sensitive safety factors. Adding to it the foreign language, the situation gets even more complex. ICAO Level 4 English language knowledge for all aviation professionals is a requirement that all aviation schools and airlines check. However, what does that mean to you and is level 4 enough to support the ever increasing aviation safety requirements and expectations?

In 1951, for the first time in the history, ICAO recommended English language to be the de facto civil aviation language. However, starting in 2001 and investigating 28,000 Aviation Safety Reporting System reports, it was determined that 70% of the accidents happened due to the lack of communication between the pilots and air traffic controllers. Therefore, in 2003, expert panel released appropriate Annexes to the documents of 1951 which made English language an ICAO standard and introduced industry with the leveled English language proficiency measurements.

Currently each aviation professional is required to hold ICAO level 4 or in other words, Operational level English language proficiency. Testing is divided into six different parts: pronunciation, structure, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and interactions. And since this time we are talking about the other side of learning aviation English, you can read about the Level 4 requirements right here.

So you got ICAO Level 4 English certificate. So what? First of all, it means the lifelong learning: keeping up the proficiency, passing, and hopefully improving the results of the recurrent testing every 3 to 5 years. One of the more important parts of working in aviation industry is that your own English language skills are not the only thing you need to worry about. You have to prepare and anticipate the difficulties that come from the person you are trying to communicate with. It may include heavy accents, different word placement in the sentences, or dual meaning word usage. And these are all the things you need to factor in and expect to happen.

If you happen to fly within a certain country where everyone is capable to communicate in the native language, it is not an excuse to quit on improving your current English language level. You need to keep in mind that it is not only a number. It is your personal abilities evaluation and a part of your professional life and not only one off ICAO requirements. It means that you need to work a little extra hard to keep up the knowledge and skills throughout the time because you might not be applying it in your daily job. Just barely passing the test and refreshing before the recurrent exam is unprofessional and very negligent behavior. It should even be your professional goal, that with every passing year, your English language should improve and recurrent testing scores should be an obvious reflection of it.

The third challenge of the aviation English is that you must continuously apply it in order to stay proficient. According to the RELTA instructors, because recurrent testing creates such large gaps for professionals to refresh on the material, aviation professionals must be self-motivated as well as company-encouraged to attend courses as well as work on English improvement in every way possible. It includes simple daily things like reading news and watching movies in English, taking holidays in countries where English is the native language, listening to audio books, attending virtual English classes online, using online chats and taking every opportunity to communicate with native speakers.

English language is one small part of the entire knowledge base pilots and aviation professionals need to acquire. However, looking at the incident data, it is obvious that language and communications are of key importance in the aviation industry.

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  • Claudia Jaekel