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English Language Proficiency for Aeronautical Communication

Safety in aviation is paramount there must be no compromise

Introduction: The ELPAC test is being developed by EUROCONTROL1 to meet European Commission and ICAO2 language proficiency requirements. The ELPAC test will allow air traffic controllers to demonstrate their proficiency in the English language in aeronautical communications between air traffic controllers and pilots, and between controllers and controllers. ELPAC is designed for operational air traffic controllers and reflects the range of tasks undertaken in air traffic control communications. Although ELPAC is firmly positioned in the operational environment the focus of the test is on language proficiency not on operational procedures. As of March 5th 2008 air traffic controllers will have to demonstrate proficiency in the language(s) used for aeronautical communication. More information can be found in ICAO Annex 1 Personnel Licensing (Chapter 1, paragraph 1.2.9), Appendix 1 and Attachment 1 to Annex 1 (Holistic Descriptors and Rating Scale). Level 4 of ICAOs language proficiency requirements is set as the minimum standard which air traffic controllers must meet. As of May 17th 2010 all air traffic controllers, and holders of a Student Air Traffic Control Licence, of the European Union Member States will have to demonstrate language proficiency in English (European Parliament Directive on the Community ATC Licence; Article 5 para (d); Article 8 1-4; Article 11 4 and Annex III).

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European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation International Civil Aviation Organisation

Language testing in aviation Language testing in aviation has exceptionally high-stakes. Controllers who fail to demonstrate compliance with the ICAO language proficiency requirements may have their licence suspended or even withdrawn - a consequence which can have severe professional repercussions on not only the career of an individual controller but also on the providers of air traffic services. Therefore all participants and stake-holders involved in aviation language testing have the responsibility to ensure that the language proficiency tests they select, provide, or develop for the aviation industry are valid, reliable, effective, and appropriate. The EC and ICAO language proficiency requirements point towards the aviation context for testing. Demonstration of actual speaking and listening ability is required. Aeronautical communication is highly specific and as such any language proficiency test that aviation professionals, controllers and pilots are asked to undertake should reflect the aviation context as opposed to other contexts such as those provided by academic or business-related language proficiency tests. States and air traffic service providers cannot afford to waste money on inadequate or unproven tests. Thus language testing for licensing purposes needs to be of the highest possible quality.

ELPAC development team Following feasibility studies carried out during 2004 the project to develop an English language proficiency test for air traffic controllers was approved by EUROCONTROLs Human Resources Team (HRT) in October 2004 and initial development started in November. In February 2005 a core Development Team, consisting of ATC and English language experts from six European countries and Eurocontrol3 began constructing test specifications and items/tasks in accordance with the ICAO language proficiency requirements. Many of these experts have experience in language test development through long association with the PELA Test4. Adrian Enright (EUROCONTROL, Luxembourg) - project leader for PELA and a member of the ICAO PRICE Study Group - manages the ELPAC project. He is assisted by language testing expert Magdalena Veeov of the Czech Republic. The project consultant for language testing is Dr. Rita Green who has extensive experience in developing language tests all over the world. In addition, ENOVATE A.S. (Bergen, Norway) has been appointed software consultant to the project and is currently designing a tailor-made program based on the successful BITE5 system which will enable ELPAC (Paper 1 - Listening Comprehension) to be delivered as a web-based test. As part of the validation process for the ELPAC Test it will be critically reviewed by an external team of language testing experts from Lancaster University in England. The team, led by Professor Charles Alderson, has already conducted one validation exercise in 2006 and will do another one in 2007. The initial validation (May 2006) confirmed that test design is on course to meet all objectives. The Project Leader reports regularly to Eurocontrols Training Focus Group (TFG) and the Human Resources Team (HRT) ensuring that ANSPs and NSAs6 are kept informed of test development.

Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Spain and Maastricht UAC Proficiency in English Language for student Air Traffic Controllers 5 Bergen Interactive Test of English 6 ANSP: Air Navigation Service Provider. NSA: National Supervisory Authority

ELPAC test design ELPAC will test English language proficiency at ICAO levels 4 (operational) and 5 (extended). Both phraseology and plain language will be tested together. Plain language proficiency is an essential component of radiotelephony communications as it is not possible to develop phraseologies to cover every conceivable situation, most particularly when unexpected or unusual situations arise. ELPAC will be both a web-based and interactive test. The web-based element will not only ensure that test administration is as economical as possible but it will also allow for a high level of security. There will be two test papers Listening Comprehension and Oral Interaction. Paper 1 (Listening Comprehension) tests understanding communications between pilots and controllers and between controllers and controllers in both routine and non-routine situations. The recordings are based on authentic material and range from short standard pilot/controller transmissions to longer communications in which the controller deals with non-routine or unexpected situations with pilots and other controllers.

Paper 2 (Oral Interaction) assesses the controllers language proficiency through non-visual and visual communication in three phases. The controller will have to demonstrate proficiency in: - the appropriate use of correct standard ICAO phraseology - switching between standard ICAO phraseology and plain English - making an appropriate response to a pilot message - resolving misunderstandings - dealing effectively with the pilot/controller relationship - negotiating a developing unusual situation - making a verbal report in plain English

And, in addition to be able to: - give opinions - put forward arguments - evaluate (advantages & disadvantages) - speculate - hypothesise - produce extended speech in an aviation context.

Test availability The ELPAC test will be available to EUROCONTROL and ECAC States from July 2007. There will also be a sample test developed so that test takers can familiarise themselves with the test structure and item types. However, development cannot stop there. States and Air Navigation Service Providers will require assistance in implementing the ELPAC Test and establishing test administration procedures. Test development and evaluation is an on-going process and will require full support in the future.

More information about the ELPAC test is available at www.elpac.info

Adrian ENRIGHT Training Development and Harmonisation EUROCONTROL Institute of Air Navigation Services Rue Antoine de Saint-Exupry, 12 L-1432 LUXEMBOURG - KIRCHBERG email: adrian.enright@eurocontrol.int