Autore: Dott.ssa Cecilia Capri


Communication and language play an important role for air safety. The possession of strong communication skills and a good knowledge of the English language is an essential requirement for all the aviation agents, above all for pilots and air traffic controllers who are responsible for radiotelephony communication between air and ground on board the aircraft.

Actually, it has been estimated from a study of Aviation Safety Reporting System that among the Human Factors occurring in a plane incident or accident, 70% of these are regarding information transfer and miscommunication issues.

For these reasons, the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) which regulates international air transportation, has realized the importance of the linguistic and communication phenomena for air safety and some measures were taken. The Annex 10 of the ICAO Manual specifies the Communication Procedures for civil aviation and it includes a full version of the aeronautic phraseology in all languages. In this section, it is clearly stated by ICAO that English language must be available at any airport for the radiotelephony communication and it must be used when the local language is not known by both controllers and pilots.

In 1998 ICAO developed the Language Proficiency Requirements which are six essential requirements regarding English language that both pilots and air traffic controllers must demonstrate to possess through a proper English test available at any civil and military aviation school. It is necessary to pass this test in order to get the flight certification.

These requirements concern pronunciation, structure, vocabulary, interaction, fluency and comprehension. The ICAO established a level from 1 to 6: the minimum operational level is 4.

The need of regulating the communication and linguistic aspect is due to the fact that a lot of incidents and accidents happened because of a low English level and because of an incomplete knowledge of the standard phraseology. An evident example is the Tenerife plane disaster in 1977 considered one of the worst in the aviation history where two Boeing collided during take off causing 583 deads. From the following investigations, it was revealed that the misunderstandings between the Dutch pilot and the Spanish air controller occurring during the radiotelephony communication in the initial phases of the flight were crucial.

The aviation history is full of examples like these ones. This is the reason why Aviation English is a language characterized by a restricted code regulated by the air transportation organizations. It has been outlined by considering the multiculturality aspect that regards aviation where there are pilots and operators from several parts of the world with different cultures, different native languages and different accents whose every day share the same air space. This is the reason why there was the need to create a common language and a specified code that should have been easily spoken and memorized by everyone. Aviation English is a language reduced in its grammatical and morphological structure, the periods are brief and impersonal, it ensures immediacy in expression and reduces the linguistic differences of their speakers. In the ICAO International Phonetic Alphabet, for example, every letter corresponds to a code that is easily to be pronounced by all sort of speakers. It was created by the practice of doing the spelling of some messages in the radiotelephony transmission. Even the numbers are pronounced differently compared to the standard English.

Actually, Aviation English presents many differences with the common English and it needs to be studied also by native English speakers. It includes a lot of differences of meaning in some words, different syntactic pattern and pronunciation. Its structure tends to reduce miscommunication and misunderstandings issues.

In this sense, behind a restricted language for air-ground communication there are important safety reasons and the key-role played by a good communication on board optimizes the daily work of air agents.


Dott.ssa Cecilia Capri