Bridging the gap between ICAO level 4 and 5 in Aviation English: expectations and results

    Gabrielė Masiulionienė Affiliation
    ; Gytė Tupčiauskaitė Affiliation


The Authors investigated the Aviation English proficiency levels of Vilnius Tech Aircraft Piloting and Air Traffic Control (ATC) students by considering general English examination scores, marks for Aviation English modules and proficiency levels of a specialised speaking task. The aim was to assess how well students acquire the skills and abilities not only to pass an Aviation English proficiency examination (level 4), but also to obtain a higher level 5 necessary for a longer endorsement of their language certificate. Finally, it was determined which areas of language are the easiest and most difficult to master with regards to either a level 4 or 5 according to the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) Rating scale. It was found that four out of five students have the background skills to reach at least an ICAO level 4 upon graduating, however only a fifth are able to achieve a higher level 5. The proportion of level 5 students does not match the proportion of students with good initial general English results, so there should be a greater focus on improving the language training programme by making it more challenging and broadening its scope in terms of vocabulary and grammar in particular.

Keyword : language proficiency, Aviation English, ICAO Rating scale, language proficiency assessment, English for Specific Purposes

How to Cite
Masiulionienė, G., & Tupčiauskaitė, G. (2023). Bridging the gap between ICAO level 4 and 5 in Aviation English: expectations and results . Aviation, 27(3), 197–211.
Published in Issue
Nov 15, 2023
Abstract Views
PDF Downloads
Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Alderson, C. (2009). Air safety, language assessment policy, and policy implementation: The case of Aviation English. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 29, 168–187.

Alderson, C. (2010). A survey of aviation English tests. Language Testing, 27(1), 51–72.

Almeida, P. V. A., & Gutierrez S. M. E. (2018). Enhancement of the English for Specific Purposes methodology applied at an Aviation Military School in Salinas [Unpublished Master’s thesis, Catholic University of Santiago de Guayaquil]. Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Breul, C. (2013). Language in Aviation: The relevance of linguistics and relevance theory. LSP Journal, 4(1), 71–86.

Bullock, N. (2015). Defining meaningful material for the teaching of English for aeronautical communications. In A. Borowska & A. Enright (Eds.), Changing perspectives on Aviation English training (pp. 35–46). Uniwersytet Warszawski.

Coertze, S., Conradie, S., Burger, C., & Huddlestone, K. (2013). Aviation English in South African airspace. Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics Plus, 42, 41–62.

Council of Europe. (2020). Common European framework of reference for languages: Learning, teaching, assessment – Companion volume. Council of Europe Publishing.

Cushing, S. (1997). Fatal words: Communication clashes and aircraft crashes. University of Chicago Press.

Dinçer, N., & Dinçer, R. (2021). The effect of a serious game on aviation vocabulary acquisition. International Journal of Serious Games, 8(4), 49–63.

Doty, S., Shila, J., & Ducar, C. (2021). Aviation English in a bilingual context. Collegiate Aviation Review International, 39(2), 318–328.

Douglas, D. (2014). Nobody seems to speak English here today: Enhancing assessment and training in Aviation English. Iranian Journal of Language Teaching Research 2(2), 1–12.

Dusenbury, M., & Bjerke, E. (2013). Predictive power of English testing: Training international flight students. Journal of Aviation/Aerospace Education & Research, 23(1), 13–22.

Er, M., & Kırkgöz, Y. (2018). Introducing innovation into an ESP Program: Aviation English for cadets. In Y. Kırkgöz & K. Dikilitaş (Eds.), English Language Education: Vol. 11. Key issues in English for specific purposes in higher education. Springer.

Elder, C., McNamara, T., Kim, H., Pill, J., & Sato, T. (2017). Interrogating the construct of communicative competence in language assessment contexts: What the non-language specialist can tell us. Language & Communication, 57, 14–21.

Emery, H. (2015). Aviation English for the next generation. In A. Borowska & A. Enright (Eds.), Changing perspectives on Aviation English training (pp. 8–34). Warsaw University.

Emery, H. (2017). Commercial aviation language testing: Barriers to success? A case study. In International Civil Aviation English Association Workshop (ICAEA), 4.

Emery, H. (2020, 9 September). Should ICAO level 6 be removed. Latitude.

Emery, H. (2021a, 30 June). Teaching aviation English to student pilots – some challenges. Latitude.

Emery, H. (2021b, 24 June). Understanding idiomatic vocabulary for ICAO L5 or L6. Latitude.

Emery, H. (2021c, 30 June). The value of aviation English rater training. Latitude.

European Commission. (2011). Commission Regulation (EU) No 1178/2011 Flight Crew Licencing (FCL) and Medical (MED) Requirements. EC.

European Commission. (2015). Commission Regulation (EU) No 2015/340. EC.

Flight Safety Foundation. (2009). Pilot-controller communication. In Approach-and-accident Reduction Tool Kit Briefing note 2.3.

Friginal, E., Mathews, E., & Roberts, J. (2020). English in global aviation: Context, research, and pedagogy. Bloomsbury Academic.

Fowler, R., Matthews, E., Lynch, J., & Roberts, J. (2021). Aviation English assessment and training. Collegiate Aviation Review International, 39(2), 26–42.

Graddol, D. (2006). English next: Why global English may mean the end of ‘English as a Foreign Language’. British Council.

Hamzah, H. (2021). Clarity and pronunciation of ab-initio air traffic controller. Aviation, 25(4), 252–261.

International Civil Aviation Organisation. (2007). Manual of Radiotelephony (Doc. 9432). Montreal, Canada.

International Civil Aviation Organisation. (2009). Guidelines for aviation English training programmes (ICAO Circular 323/AN185).

International Civil Aviation Organisation. (2010). Manual on the implementation of ICAO language proficiency requirements (Doc. 9835/AN453). Montreal, Canada.

International Civil Aviation Organisation. (2016). Procedures for air navigation services: Air traffic management (Doc. 4444). Montreal, Canada.

Ishihara, N., & Prado, M. C. A. (2021). The negotiation of meaning in aviation English as a Lingua Franca: A corpus-informed discursive approach. Modern Language Journal, 105(3), 639–654.

Kim, H. (2012). Exploring the construct of aviation communication: A critique of the ICAO language proficiency policy [Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Melbourne], Melbourne, Australia.

Kirk, J. (2012). Limitations and dangers of the use of the English language in aviation communications. EMS Pilot Blog.

Kukovec, A. (2008). Teaching aviation English and radiotelephony communication in line with the newly established International Civil Aviation Organization language proficiency requirements for pilots. Inter Alia, 1, 127–137.

Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Lithuania. (2012). Amendment of Order No V-435 of the Minister of Education and Science of the Republic of Lithuania of 16 March 2011 “On the approval procedure for determining portability and correspondence between results of international foreign language proficiency examinations and State foreign language proficiency examinations”. Order No V-153 of the Minister of Education and Science of the Republic of Lithuania of 20 January 2012.

Mitsutomi, M., & O’Brien, K. (2003). The critical components of Aviation English. International Journal of Applied Aviation Studies, 3(2), 117–129.

Mazzolini, M. (2019). A perceived needs assessment in the Italian Aviation Context: Attitudes towards ICAO language proficiency requirements, testing and training with regard to job security of pilots and air traffic controllers [Unpublished Master’s thesis, Universita Ca’Foscari of Venice, Italy].

Mekkaoui, G., & Mouhadjer, N. (2019). Addressing air traffic controllers’ English language proficiency needs: Case of Zenata Airport. Global Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 9(3), 167–183.

Paul, S. (2021). Understanding aviation English: Challenges and opportunities in NLP applications for Indian Languages. In L. Li (Ed.), Air traffic management and control. IntechOpen.

Prado, C. A., M., & Tosqui-Lucks, P. (2019). Designing the Radiotelephony Plain English Corpus (RTPEC): A specialized spoken English language corpus towards a description of aeronautical communications in non-routine situations. Research in Corpus Linguistics, 7, 113–128.

Richards, J., & Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching. Cambridge University Press.

Shawcross, P. (2008). Social, safety and economic impacts of global language testing in aviation. In Proceedings of ALTE 3rd International Conference. Berlin, Germany.

Suryadi. (2020). The correlation between controllers’ aviation knowledge, listening comprehension, and IELP at JATSC. Journal of English Language Teaching and Cultural Studies, 3(1).

Tiewtrakul, T., & Fletcher, S. (2010). The challenge of regional accents for aviation English language proficiency standards: A study of difficulties in understanding in air traffic control-pilot communications. Ergonomics, 53(2), 229–239.

Tosqui-Lucks, P., & Santana, J. (Eds.) (2022). Aviation English: A global perspective: Analysis, teaching, assessment. Bookerfield.

Tranter, G. (2017). The influence of ICAO Level 6 on stakeholders’ perceptions of and attitudes to quality of communications. In International Civil Aviation English Association Workshop, 4.

Wang, A. (2007). Teaching Aviation English in the Chinese context: Developing ESP theory in a non-English speaking country. English for Specific Purposes, 26(1), 121–128.

Whyte, Sh. (2019). Revisiting communicative competence in the teaching and assessment of language for specific purposes. Language Education & Assessment, 2(1), 1–19.

Yan, P. (2022). The mixed teaching mode of Civil Aviation English in the era of big data. In J. C. Hung, J. W. Chang, Y. Pei, & W. C. Wu (Eds), Innovative computing: Lecture notes in electrical engineering (vol. 791, pp. 1245–1252). Springer.

Zhao, K., Guo, X., & Gao, X. (2017). Learning English to fly: A study of Chinese cargo airline pilots’ learning engagement. English Today, 33(4), 5–11.