When I was young, I wanted to be a pilot.
My parents got me a book on airplanes that described the different types of aircraft and how they stay afloat in the sky.
I remember coming across a whole lot of unfamiliar words and phrases. I learned words like “thrust,” “cockpit” and “hangar.”
I’d pretend to be a pilot and talk to my imaginary crew members while steering my toy plane to safety.
I didn’t understand the mechanics of it, but I was incredibly fascinated—pilots had to learn to speak a whole new code language!
There’s a term for it. It’s called “aviation English” and it’s the internationally recognized language of aviation.
In addition to the physics, meteorology and electronic aspects that you must be proficient in, you must also be aware of the specific terminology used in aviation, as well as how to communicate as accurately as possible.
So whether you’re a pilot, an air traffic controller or someone working or looking to work in the aviation industry, you need to have an impressive command over the English language in general, and aviation English in particular.
Aviation English Proficiency Tests
Your skill in aviation English is usually measured in terms of the requirements set forth by the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization), with native speaking aviation professionals usually awarded the “level 6 ICAO status.”
Another test of aviation English knowledge is the T.E.A (Test of English for Aviation), designed by Mayflower College in the UK, though it isn’t endorsed by the ICAO.
Yet another exam called the ELPAC (English Language Proficiency for Aeronautical Communication).
Which of these tests will you need to take? It all depends on your local requirements. Contact your local aviation academy and find out which tests you’ll have to take to prove your communication skills.
No matter which test you end up taking, you will need to show that your English skills are good enough since it’s been decided that English is a requirement for all pilots.
However, you won’t be able to learn everything in a day.
Which is where I come in. In this post, I share some top resources to help you master aviation English as well as a glossary list of the most important or commonly-used words in aviation English. Get ready for takeoff!
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Resources for Learning English for Aviation
Here are some links that I curated for you, to supplement your Aviation English learning.
1. Use Vocabulary Exercises: The internet is rife with free online vocabulary resources and courses, and Blair English is an absolutely wonderful place to grow and practice your English vocabulary. Their section on Aviation English explains some very common words in a conversational manner then tests your learning with a pictorial quiz.
2. Read This Book: “Aviation English” by Henry Emery and Andy Roberts is a great book for aviation professionals to brush up on their communication skills. It’s published by MacMillan so you can’t go wrong. It also comes with an interactive CD-ROM.
3. Check Out Educational Youtube Videos: Youtube is a wonderful source of learning, and if you’re short on time, just watch some quick videos. I recommend this video, which introduces you to aviation English and provides you a brief overview of it.
4. Bookmark This Website: The Aviation English Blog is a remarkable go-to website that covers a wide variety of topics and news related to aviation and aviation English. Bookmark it now!
5. Use FluentU: Remember when we said you need to have a solid grasp of general English in order to communicate effectively? FluentU can help you get there.
English for Aviation: The Ultimate Glossary of 23 Must-know Words
To make things easier for you, I’ve simplified and adapted the meanings of these words so you can grasp the core concepts easily. I’ve also divided it into two sections, to make for easy browsing. Bookmark this post, and refer back to it when you’re revising your aviation English vocabulary.
Parts of an Airplane
These words refer to different parts or aspects of an airplane.
These refer to the hinged flight control surfaces at the ends/tips of each aircraft wing. In French, the word literally means “little wing” or “fin” and it helps to “roll” the plane and turn it left or right. When the aileron on one wing side is down, the other aileron is automatically up.
An instrument that tells you the altitude at which the plane is currently flying.
3. Baggage Hold
Also known as the “cargo bin,” this term refers to the compartment beneath the plane’s cabin where the passengers’ extra luggage is kept.
The part of the aircraft where the passengers travel. When you get on a plane and find your seat, the space that you’re in is the aircraft cabin.
5. Call Sign
The plane’s name, basically. This is usually the aircraft’s registration number, which helps to identify it and makes sure each call sign is unique.
The pilot’s space—the part in front of an aircraft from where the pilot flies the plane. This is also called the “flight deck.”
Flat, hinged flaps located on the edge of the horizontal bit of the plane’s “tail” (the back) that are used to make the plane go down or climb up.
The main part of the aircraft which contains the passengers, the crew and the cargo—in other words, the whole plane.
A mechanical device attached to the “nose” (front part) of the airplane, that’s used to power and steer a small aircraft.
A movable flap located at the “tail” of the plane that helps the aircraft turn. Basically, when the rudder goes left, the plane goes left too, and vice versa.
The panels on top of the wings that cause a plane to go down or slow down once it’s landed on the runway.
A particular shape or design that provides minimum resistance to the flow of air or water. In fact, it’s the airplane’s streamlined shape that makes flight possible.
An instrument that keeps you updated on the power of the plane’s engines.
These, of course, refers to the two long horizontal parts attached to the body of the airplane.
Airport and Flight Terminology
These words refer to different parts of an airport, as well as to specific terms used in aviation.
The large buildings inside which the planes are parked.
A stop or transfer between flights. It may be as short as half an hour or go up to 24 hours for international flights.
A pushback is a specific term that refers to when the plane is pushed back from the gate and onto the taxiway. Once the passengers have boarded and the doors have been closed, the pilot has to request the controller for a “pushback.”
The space in front of the gates where the planes are usually parked. It’s also called a “tarmac” or an “apron.”
The roads on which the plane lands or takes off are called “runways.” The ramp is connected to the runway by a road called the “taxiway.”
A decrease in speed up to the point where the wings are unable to produce “lift” (the upward force that keeps the aircraft in the air).
The movement of the plane while it’s on wheels (when it’s preparing for take-off or after it lands).
The building through which the passengers must travel in order to get on the plane. Naturally, there are different terminals for different flights.
The force created by the engine that moves the airplane through the air.
I don’t want to scare you, but working in aviation means that you aren’t just responsible for yourself, but also for everyone around you. As a pilot, you’re tasked with carrying your passengers to their destination, as safely and swiftly as possible.
Because of this, clear, efficient communication is extremely important to prevent tragic miscommunication during emergencies. As a pilot, you have to think quickly on your feet even as you’re up in the sky, and mastering aviation English will help you do that.
So keep learning and trust yourself and your abilities, and you’re sure to be successful.
Archita Mittra is a freelance writer, journalist, editor and educator. Feel free to check out her blog or contact her for freelancing/educational inquiries.
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