A broader view of communicative competence for aeronautical communications: Implications for teaching and high-stakes testing





communication, pilot, ATCO, English, aviation


This paper examines language used in radio communication between pilots and Air Traffic Controller Officers (ATCOs). It demonstrates that such communication is extremely complex, requiring a certain level of technical knowledge and is influenced by many other observable factors. Using research data from two studies involving nearly 200 aviation English professionals, this paper first presents a matrix that maps the construct of aeronautical radiotelephony (RT) communication (MONTEIRO, 2019a). Then, it explores the perceptions of a group of pilots and ATCOs on the multiple factors that may impact communication in this professional context. There then follows an application of this emerging list of factors in the analysis of a non-routine scenario of pilot/ATCO interaction. Integration of findings confirms the many complex features that form the communicative exchanges in this highly technical domain and the range of competencies required for effective and safe outcomes. Implications for teaching and high-stakes testing of these aviation professionals are discussed with the aim of improving communicative competence above a purely linguistic level and to increase the validity of inferences drawn from test results.


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Author Biographies

Ana Lúcia Tavares Monteiro, Agência Nacional de Aviação Civil - Brasil

Ana Lúcia Tavares Monteiro is an ICAEA Board Member and co-leads the ICAEA Research Group. She has been working with the ICAO Language Proficiency Requirements since 2005 at ANAC – Brazil, as a regulator, aviation English test designer, interlocutor, rater and rater trainer. Ana has an MA in Applied Linguistics (UFRJ, Brazil) and a PhD in Applied Linguistics and Discourse Studies (Carleton University, Canada). Her research interests include the impact of cultural factors on pilot-controller communications and the specification of the construct of aviation radiotelephony communication to inform test design. Email: ana.monteiro.icaea@gmail.com

Neil Vernon Bullock, Englishplus LTS

Neil Bullock is a language specialist focussing on English in professional communication, specifically aviation. Having worked in air traffic control for 20 years, he started teaching business English in 2003 and then developed his language skills in testing, linguistics and teacher training. With an MA in Applied Linguistics, he has developed training courses for Aviation English teachers and has managed the development of language proficiency testing programmes for the Federal Office of Civil Aviation in Switzerland. Neil is ICAEA Vice-President and a committee member of IATEFL Testing, Evaluation and Assessment SIG. Email: n.bullock@lancaster.ac.uk


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