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English has long been the dominant language in aviation, but did you know that it wasn’t until 2008 that English Language proficiency tests were made a requirement for international pilots and air traffic controllers?
Although general English proficiency (ICAO Level 4) is now a requirement, the “Language of the Skies” itself is a specialist one known as ‘Aviation English’. It doesn’t have anywhere near the range of everyday English, focusing instead on a highly specific phraseology. This is designed to avoid any critical misunderstandings between pilots and air traffic control.
Think about the many words in English that sound the same or similar (eg. “two” and “too”) but mean completely different things. Aviation English seeks to minimise those potential conflicts as much as possible, as well as attempting to keep things clear between speakers who might have very different accents and/or cultural backgrounds.
I find it a little concerning that it was less than 15 years ago that English proficiency became mandatory for international pilots. That said, flying has statistically been incredibly safe for a long time of course and continuous improvements are the key to that.
Photo credit: British Airways