Aviation makes the world a smaller place and international airlines play a huge role in connecting people from across the globe with different cultures together.International airlines as many international companies all over the world hire people from different countries. For example, Emirates Airlines recruits pilots from all over the world and there are 52 different nationalities of pilots currently in the airline. The top three nationalities being British, Australian and Canadian.

Need for Aviation Language

With such diversity in the crew, the focus on communication is very important. The flight crew, cabin crew , air traffic controller , in short, the entire aviation community need to communicate in a common language. In the history of aviation , a lot of accidents and incidents such as the Tenerife Airport runway collision or the Charkhi-Dadri Mid Air collision have time and again reminded us as aviators the importance of communication.

A)Controller: Descend two four zero zero feet.
In this message, the similarity between “two” and “to” led the pilot to understand 400 feet instead of 2 400 feet. The aircraft crashed into high ground.

B)Pilot: We are at take-off.
In this message, the controller understood that the pilot was waiting in position to begin the take-off, whereas the aircraft had actually begun to accelerate along the runway. It collided in foggy conditions with another aircraft.

The points A and B highlight the ease with which miscommunication can be of serious consequence and impact safety.

What is Aviation Language?

The field covered by the term “aviation language” is relatively broad. It could include all of the language uses of many different professions (engineers, technicians, commercial staff, flight crews, etc.) within the aviation domain.The sole object of ICAO language proficiency requirements is aeronautical radiotelephony communications, a specialized subcategory of aviation language corresponding to a limited portion of the language uses of only two aviation professions — controllers and flight crews.

The language spoken in aviation is called ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) English. The ICAO, recommended English to be the language for aeronautical radiotelephony communications in 1951 as most of the English speaking countries dominated the aviation market.English is a first language or a widely used national language in approximately sixty counties and is an important second language in many more.Non-native users of English outnumbered native users at the start of the 21st century by approximately 3 to 1.

Language Proficiency Requirements

Since the 5th of March 2008, every pilot or flight crew member coming into contact with international aviation communication including air traffic controllers must pass a language proficiency exam in compliance with ICAO regulations.

A language proficiency rating scale was developed as a guide to judge pilots and air traffic controllers over their command on the language. The scale was only tests speaking and listening skills and does not address reading and writing skills.

The scale is divided into 6 levels. Levels 1 to 3 on the rating scale assist the examiner on recruiting and training the candidate while Levels 4 to 6 set up a minimum operational requirement. Hence pilots need to need to make sure their language skills meet at least the ICAO Level 4 requirements.If a pilot gets a level 6 rating, he is granted an exemption from the need to be re-evaluated from time to time.

The Language proficiency exam tests consists of pronunciation, structure (use of tense etc), vocabulary, fluency, comprehension and interaction. However to acquire an ICAO Level 4 rating does not require high degrees of grammatical correctness and traditional English language .

Level 1,2 and 3 on the Rating Scale
Level 4 ,5 and 6 on the Rating Scale

ICAO Phonetic Alphabet

The International Civil Aviation Organization created the international radiotelephony alphabet, tied to the , English Alphabets . They were created to avoid the confusion between similar sounding alphabets such as B and D or M and N. Therefore on the radio the ATC will instruct the pilots the to “ Hold short of holding point APLHA” and not “Hold short of holding point A” .


The foundation’s of standard phraseology were laid in the Annex 10 Volume 2 of the ICAO Annexure. Standard phrases are of extremely useful in emergencies and unusual situation and helps keep communication concise.Therefore learning the new aviation alphabets is not the only difference in the aviation language, pilots and ATCs need to have these standard words and phrases registered in their memory.

There are about 300 standard words and phrases that are used. Some of the most common ones are listed below along with their meaning:

  • Acknowledge: Let me know when you have received and understood the message
  • Affirm: Yes
  • Approved: Permission for proposed message granted
  • Break: I hereby indicate the separation between portions of the message (to be used where there is no clear distinction between the text and other portions of the message)
  • Break Break: I hereby indicate separation between messages transmitted to different aircraft in a very busy environment
  • Cancel: Annul the previously transmitted clearance
  • Check: Used to examine a procedure or system
  • Cleared:Authorised to proceed under specific conditions
  • Confirm:Have you correctly received the message ?
  • Contact : Establish radio communication with …
  • Correction: An error has been made in the previous transmitted message. The corrected message is …
  • Disregard: Consider the transmission as not sent
  • I say again: Repeating for clarity of the message
  • Maintain: Continue in accordance with the condition specified . for eg, ‘Maintain VFR’ (VFR- Visual Flight Rules)
  • Mayday: My aircraft and its occupants are threatened by grave and imminent danger and/or I require immediate assistance
  • Negative: Permission not granted
  • Over: My transmission has ended and I expect a response
  • Pan Pan: I have an urgent message to transmit concerning the safety of my aircraft, or other vehicle or of some person on board, or within sight, but I do not require immediate assistance
  • Read Back: Repeat all, or the specified part, of this message back to me exactly as received
  • Report: Pass me the following information
  • Request: I wish to obtain
  • Stand by : Wait , I will connect with you in a bit
  • Wilco: I have understood your message and will comply with it

FACT OF THE WEEK: Mason Andrews, age 18 Yrs 163 Days became the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe in an aircraft when he completed his journey in Monroe, Louisiana, USA on the 6th of October 2018. Mason flew a single engine Piper PA -32 around the world in 76 days.

Andrews’s journey was only made possible by initially telling his parents he was flying solo across the Atlantic and no further. His parents were resistant to even allow this trip, but they were eventually persuaded by the scale and detail of his preparations. It was only later that they learned of the worldwide trip he was planning.

This is it for this weeks post. I hope you gained some new knowledge from it. Please share it with your fellow aviators and enthusiasts if you liked this post. Feel free to comment for suggestions. Until next week , stay safe and stay healthy .



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