The ICAO English Language Proficiency Rating Scale Applied to Enroute Voice Communication of U.S. and Foreign Pilots

This is the third and final report in a series that examined communications between pilots and air traffic controllers during en route operations. The first report examined message complexity and message length as factors associated with communication problems, e.g., readback errors (RBEs), requests for repeats (RfR), and breakdowns in communication (BIC). The second report examined these same communication problems by differentiating between pilots flying U.S.- and foreign-registry aircraft. Aircraft call signs were used to classify transmissions by aircraft registry (U.S.-English, Foreign-English, Foreign-Other). Language proficiency was identified as a factor for 66/90 (73%) communication problems among foreign aircraft and for 56/191 (29%) involving U.S. aircraft. However, there was no mention of the level of proficiency among these pilots. This report examined the language proficiency among these controllers and pilots by applying the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) language proficiency scales to the messages of pilots flying U.S.- and foreign-registry aircraft. The previously identified communication problems were re-examined and rated according to ICAO’s six dimensions of language proficiency (pronunciation, structure, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, interaction) by a certified rater. Each dimension receives a grade ranging from 1 (Pre-Elementary) through 6 (Expert). Approximately 94% of the pilots received an overall language proficiency rating (LPR) of 5 (Extended) because one or more of their utterances was graded Extended. The remaining 13 pilots’ LPR was 4 (Operational), 12 of whom flew Foreign-Other registry aircraft. Among U.S. English communication problems, 50% were RBEs, and 33% were RfR. Foreign-Other communication problems were 57% RfR, 44% of which were made by pilots with an overall rating of Extended. Furthermore, 21.4% of the Foreign-Other communication problems were RBEs, and 14.3% were from pilots with an overall LPR of Extended. ICAO requires its Contracting States to test their aviation personnel for language proficiency. Failure to reach the Expert level will require retesting at least once every 3 years if the test results place the pilot at Operational or every 6 years if Extended. This standard is designed to improve the air traffic control (ATC) communication process and is likely to reduce the incidence of miscommunications.

  • Record URL:
  • Corporate Authors:

    FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute

    6500 S MacArthur Boulevard
    Oklahoma City, OK  United States  73125

    Xyant Technologies, Incorporated

    2600 Van Buren St., Suite 2624
    Norman, OK  United States  73072

    Federal Aviation Administration

    Office of Aerospace Medicine, 800 Independence Avenue, SW
    Washington, DC  United States  20591
  • Authors:
    • Prinzo, O Veronika
    • Thompson, Audrey C
  • Publication Date: 2009-5


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Edition: Final Report
  • Features: Figures; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 20p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01780875
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: DOT/FAA/AM-09/10
  • Created Date: Aug 30 2021 3:43PM