English for Aviation - Ensuring International Safety in the Air
NATO air force trainers will stay in Afghanistan longer than any other personnel working to build an effective Afghan Air Force according to a recent article in the Washington Post. One key reason is to ensure that Afghan aviation personnel can speak English at an internationally recognised operational level. The international language of aviation is English, and Afghan air traffic controllers, pilots, and maintenance and support crews need to learn how to speak and read it in order to coordinate operations with the rest of the world, as well as read technical orders and manuals, all in English of course. As the report says, ensuring that the 6,400 members of the Afghan air force are proficient in English is no small task in a country with a 60 to 70 percent illiteracy rate in its native languages. This highlights an issue affecting air forces around the world. Ever since the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a specialised agency of the United Nations, standardised English language competency for all pilots and air traffic controllers (ATCs) working in international airspace, there has been a rush to get trained in Aviation-focused English in many countries around the world. The ICAO set an English language assessment framework in order to ensure that international air travel communication happened in the same language in order to ensure critical health, safety and security issues were understood by all those involved. This was inspired to some extent by a history of accidents resulting from miscommunication, such as the Tenerife Airport disaster and the CharkhiDadri Mid-Air Collision. The ICAO Aviation English Language framework was introduced in March 2008 and came fully into effect in March 2011.The ICAO framework divides English level into 6 levels - pre-elementary (1), elementary (2), pre-operational (3), operational (4), extended (5), and expert (6). In order for pilots and ATCs to work in international air space they need to be ICAO Level 4 English, Operational. The language involved is a mixture of General English language skills (grammar, vocabulary, listening skills, pronunciation, etc) and more technical Aviation English , involving standard phraseology, acronyms and phonetic spelling, for example. As a result, schools and training specialists around the world now offer a myriad of Aviation English courses which can be taken at schools on an immersion basis, in-company, or online. Sometimes, these are language training centres such as Anglo-Continental or BBSI in Bournemouth, UK. Sometimes, these are aviation training specialists who also arrange English language tuition in addition to other training services. Pacific Sky in Canada, for example, recently taught English to Vietnamese navy pilots as well as a raft of flight and technical training.