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Aviation Word of the Month – ELPAC

By Ian Brown, EAA 657159, Editor, Bits and Pieces

April 5, 2022 – English is the standard language for pilots across the world. It would be impractical to have a pilot crossing multiple language areas having to be proficient in each language. Obviously pilots and air traffic controllers need to be proficient not only in natural communication but also with the specific vocabulary of aviation.

ELPAC is an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) set of tests given to air traffic controllers in Europe and elsewhere. It stands for English Language Proficiency for Aeronautical Communication. It is mandatory for higher levels of ATC operatives and international pilots and the testing involves the following goals. Pilots elsewhere in North America may be unaware that pilots in Quebec often communicate in French and can choose to receive ATC instructions in French. The purpose of the test is to ensure that an applicant is able to:

  • understand and avoid idiomatic English
  • recognize and avoid ambiguity
  • use clear and concise English
  • negotiate meaning
  • clarify potential misunderstandings

Learn more about ELPAC.

193 countries joined the Chicago Convention is 1944 and formed the ICAO, and agreed on English as the standard language. Each country is responsible for its own aviation services but ICAO through programs like ELPAC set standards that the countries may choose to follow. Apparently French pilots have been ordered to speak English to their own ATC service. Safety was given as a primary concern. I guess it must be hard to manage traffic in multiple languages, one controller speaking English and the other one French. Imagine if our traffic light system was different in different countries.

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