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Speaking the FAA’s Language – Guidance on English Proficiency

The hotline – ARSA’s premier member newsletter – contains news, editorial content, analysis and resources for the aviation maintenance community. Given the broader attention gained by the FAA’s guidance adopting international language proficiency standards, the association has released for public consumption the following “Legal Brief” from the January edition. To ensure they do not miss out on this kind of insight, all members should ensure they receive their edition the first week of each month. Not getting yours? We can fix that.


January Hotline Legal Brief 

Editor’s note: This material is provided as a service to association members for educational and informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal or professional advice and is not privileged or confidential.

Speaking the Same Language

By Sarah MacLeod, Executive Director

On Dec. 12, 2017, the FAA issued guidance on how its representatives should assess whether an airman or applicant has the necessary English language proficiency to hold or obtain an individual certificate. The guidance is based upon the standards issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and states the FAA expects its applicants or certificate holders to have a ICAO Language Proficiency Ratings Scale Operational Level 4 English proficiency level.

This information is instructive for repair stations that must under 14 CFR § 145.151 have qualified personnel to perform work. This means all repair stations must ensure supervisors (§ 145.153), inspectors (§ 145.155) and persons authorized to approve work for return to service (§ 145.157) can “understand, read and write” English. For domestic repair stations, supervisors and those individuals having authority to issue approvals for return to service must be appropriately certificated under part 65 as a mechanic or repairman, which means those persons must also be able to speak English (§§ 65.71(a)(2) and 65.101(a)(6)).

It behooves all repair stations to have hiring and evaluation practices that ensure inspectors, supervisors and persons authorized to issue approvals for return to service are capable of understanding, reading and writing English. Thus, during the hiring or authorization process, the company needs to:

  • Ask the individual to read from English-written aviation materials and have her/him write an explanation of the materials in English.
  • Provide the individual with verbal instructions in normal-paced English and have her/him write down the instructions provided in English.

From the responses, a repair station can determine whether the individual provided an appropriate explanation of verbal and written information in the English language. The individual’s answers need to demonstrate the ability to read, write and understand aviation related material(s), instructions given, and questions asked in that language.

Repair stations in the United States also need to determine whether the mechanic or person recommended for a repairman certificate can speak and be understood in English “without undue focus on the pronunciation and speech.” In other words, will the individual’s verbal English skills enable effective communication within the repair station and with its customers and regulators? To make that assessment, the repair station needs to determine whether the individual can understand and participate in a normally-paced verbal exchange or conversation in English. Can the individual’s verbal explanation of what was read or heard be understood by a native English-speaking individual without undue concentration?

These determinations can be made during the hiring or authorization process by ensuring the individual is required to fill out an application that is provided in English, that must be completed in English. To ensure it is the individual that is actually completing the application, the repair station can provide those documents and make sure they are filled out “in person.” The ability to verbalize (i.e., speak) in understandable English can also be done in a systematic manner through normal conversation or during an in-person interview among and between other individuals that are either native English speaking or with various degrees of proficiency (as set forth in the ICAO standard referenced above).

English has always been the language of aviation and it should not be an undue burden on persons in the industry to ensure it is read, written and understood by persons performing key positions in a repair station. The ability to speak English clearly and concisely is a bit more problematic. Aviation is an international industry where English is a second language for many, even in countries where that language is supposedly “native.” Indeed, persons in the United States do not speak the “Queen’s” English and the pronunciation of “mandatory” can create heated discussion! Nonetheless, if we are open-minded during our evaluations, the ability to understand each other when discussing aviation-related materials can be determined fairly and equitably under the ICAO proficiency standard.

See the Guidance…

FSIMS: Determine If an Applicant/Certificated Airman Meets the English Language Eligibility Requirement for an FAA Certificate
Issued 12/19/2017


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