Volume 33 (2008)

Volume 33 (2008) / Issue 4/5

Ruwantissa Abeyratne, 'Language Proficiency in Aeronautical Communications: Some Recent Developments' (2008) 33 Air and Space Law, Issue 4/5, pp. 356–367


Consequent upon the mid–air collision over India in 1996 which resulted in the death of 349 persons, and particularly since 1998, ICAO has made consistent efforts to standardize language proficiency for pilots and air traffic controllers. The issue has reached critical proportions in recent times due to the exponential growth in air traffic which involves longer flights operated by ultra long–range aircraft crossing several territorial boundaries within a given flight. Such conditions could cause fatigue among air crew, leading them to misunderstand instructions, particularly if they are unfamiliar with the language of communication with the tower.

Failures in communication bring to bear the compelling need for a standardized aviation language that all those who are involved in the technical operation of a flight could speak and understand. Recent measures by ICAO to strengthen and standardize global regulation in language proficiency include Resolution A 36–11, which, inter alia, recognizes the need for work in introducing language provisions to ensure that air traffic personnel and pilots are proficient in conducting and comprehending radiotelephony communications in the English language. It also acknowledges that the language provisions reinforce the requirement to use ICAO standardized phraseology in all situations for which it has been specified. Based on these observations the Resolution specifies several requirements that ICAO Member States should meet.

This article traces regulatory measures taken and inquires into the legalities of such measures and the obligation of States.

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ISSN: 0927-3379
ID: AILA2008027