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Updated: May 30, 2023

English Language Proficiency for Aeronautical Communication

A test to assess ICAO English Language Proficiency for pilots and air traffic controllers

The ELPAC suite comprises three tests: ELPAC ATC, ELPAC pilots, ELPAC level 6. The ELPAC test suite has been designed to assess the level of proficiency of air traffic controllers and pilots in the context of radio telephony communications and in accordance with the ICAO language proficiency requirements that were put in place in 2011. The ELPAC ATC test assesses the full range of communicative tasks at ICAO levels 4 and 5 that an air traffic controller maybe confronted with in the OPS room or the ATC control tower. Air traffic controllers rely on ICAO standardized phraseology in everyday situations however in an unexpected situation they may have to use plain English and they may have to shift between using standardized phraseology and plain English in order to adequately deal with and support the flight crews. The ELPAC pilot test has been designed to assess the ability of pilots to communicate effectively with air traffic control at ICAO levels 4 and 5. This means that pilots in the test have to demonstrate their ability to make requests, to report unexpected situations, to negotiate and to resolve potential misunderstandings. Traditionally language tests assess the ability of the test taker to show off their language ability as best they can. As such the highest scores are usually awarded to test takers who can impress with the range of their vocabulary or the complexity of their grammar. The ELPAC level 6 test however has been designed to assess the ability of pilots and of air traffic controllers to communicate effectively using radiotelephony communications. Effective communication is achieved by demonstrating the ability to adapt to a less proficient speaker or a speaker from a different cultural background. It also means dealing adequately deal with misunderstandings and identifying and resolving ambiguity.

ICAO Recognition

The ELPAC test fully meets ICAO standards and recommended practises. The ELPAC test for air traffic controllers is fully recognised by ICAO for being in compliance with ICAO Doc 9835. The ELPAC test for pilots is being reviewed by ICAO. Test construct and test format is similar in both versions of the ELPAC test and we are expecting a positive decision soon.

ELPAC Listening Comprehension - Paper 1

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 transmissions to longer communications in which the controller and pilot deal with non-routine or unusual situations.

ELPAC Paper 1 is administered via the internet and takes around 40 minutes.

ELPAC Oral Interaction - Paper 2

Paper 2 (Oral Interaction) assesses the controller’s or pilot’s proficiency through non-visual and visual communication in three tasks. It includes:

  • the correct use of standard ICAO phraseology

  • switching between structured phrases [RTF] and plain English

  • making an appropriate response to a message

  • resolving misunderstandings

  • dealing effectively with the relationship between pilot and controller

  • negotiating a developing unusual situation

  • making a verbal report in English (of the unusual situation)

  • producing extended speech in an aviation context

ELPAC Paper 2 is administered by two ELPAC examiners, a language expert and an operational expert, and takes around 20 minutes.

ELPAC Level 6

After the first series of language proficiency tests have been completed organisations wishing to test their staff at ICAO level 6 may implement the ELPAC level 6 test also referred to as ELPAC Paper 3. Paper 3 (level 6 test) assesses the ATC controller’s or pilot’s proficiency at ICAO level 6, verifying in four tasks that, according to the ICAO rating scale description of a level 6 speaker, the candidate is able to:

  • understand and avoid idiomatic English

  • recognise and avoid ambiguity

  • use clear and concise English

  • negotiate meaning

  • clarify potential misunderstandings

The ELPAC level 6 test can be taken only after the candidate has demonstrated ICAO level 5 first in the regular ELPAC test.

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