In an effort to better define what it means to “read, write, speak and understand the English language”—for purposes of airman qualification standards—the FAA recently adopted international language proficiency standards.
In response to an increased focus on human factors, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) published a grading system for assessing English language proficiency in certificated airmen in 2014. The ICAO language scale defines six levels of proficiency ranging from preelementary (Level 1) to expert (Level 6).
The assessment is based on a person’s English proficiency across six skill areas of linguistic performance: pronunciation, structure, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension and interactions.
ICAO has deemed Level 4 as the minimum level acceptable to ensure safe operations, so the FAA Aviation English Language Standard (AELS) adopted the same level as the minimum English language proficiency standard for those holding an FAA certificate.
In 2017, the agency revised Advisory Circular (AC) 60-28, English Language Skill Standards Required by 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Parts 61, 63 and 65 and more recently added a dedicated section to its inspector guidance. The AC introduces the AELS and reproduces ICAO Level 4 proficiency requirement descriptors. The order adds in assessment and testing examples, as well as a process for evaluating currently certificated individuals when English proficiency qualifications are called into question.
If an inspector has a reasonable question as to whether a mechanic or repairman meets the language standard, the order suggests issuing a letter of reexamination, which may include a request that the individual’s certificate be temporarily deposited with the local office pending reexamination. The certificate holder may then take corrective action (i.e., an ICAO-recognized English course) before reapplying for his or her certificate.
The new inspector guidance can be found in the Flight Standards Information System, Vol. 5, Chapter 14.