While I'm sure it varies by territory, and that airports around more cosmopolitan areas have controllers better versed in English, I was wondering how well controllers have to know English. I imagine that there are places where all of the English they know is aviation-related. I can imagine that there are situations in which lack of knowledge of the language outside of memorized aviation vocabulary could be harmful, and situations in which a translator might be needed. How well versed in English are ATCs?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ hello there, I see three questions: one in the title, another two in the question body. At its current status, I'd say it is too broad for the site. If you can narrow the scope, it'd be great. $\endgroup$
    – kevin
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ Waiting to reopen. Sure it is relevant here. $\endgroup$
    – vasin1987
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Which specific version of English are international pilots and ATC required/recommended to learn? $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ @mins Similar, but that question seemed to focus on the "flavor" of English used, whereas I'm trying to figure out the proficiency required (to determine if it would affect operational ability) $\endgroup$
    – JBeck
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ Related, at least for the part about the interpreters (not translators!) $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 1:07

2 Answers 2


You might want to have a look into ICAO Language Proficiency Rating Scale. The article suggests that

In 2003, ICAO set a deadline of March 2008 for English language proficiency at Level 4 and above for all pilots flying international routes and air traffic controllers serving international airports and routes.

Original text is not in bold.

In the same link, you can also find the description of each rating scale, as described in the Manual on the Implementation of ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements Doc 9835 AN/453, quoted here for convenience:

Level description

As of translators on call, I've never heard of such a practice and if I judge from the Level 4 being the minimum, that wouldn't be necessary.


Air traffic controllers need an ICAO English proficiency level 4 or above.

You can see what the different levels require here:

enter image description here

Source: http://www.skybrary.aero/index.php/English_Language_Proficiency_Requirements

The English proficiency is tested when the ATC certificate is first issued, and then repeatedly after a number of years, depending on the level (the lower level you get, the more often you need to be tested).

  • $\begingroup$ I believe (but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) that if you get a Level 6, no further testing is required in that language. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 18:04
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    $\begingroup$ @michaelkjörling It used to be like that, but that has been changed. Now level 6 is valid for 9 years IIRC $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ I actually asked a local examiner about that. His answer was that it varies between countries even within the EU. For pilots in Sweden, level 6 is valid indefinitely. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 11:57
  • $\begingroup$ @michaelkjörling Fair enough, I just know I have to renew mine :D $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ For pilots, it's valid indefinitely, for ATCOs, a level 6 ICAO English is only valid for 9 years. At least in Slovakia. $\endgroup$
    – ericek111
    Commented Oct 8, 2023 at 14:06

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