Flying an airline aircraft is a team effort, completed between two pilots in constant communication with ATC, their flight attendants, etc.

Therefore, without excellent communication it is not possible to fly.

Proper communication and safety go hand in hand. It is essential to avoid misunderstandings, which in an increasingly globalized profession, with pilots and controllers from all over the world, it means being able to communicate effectively in English.

Beyond misunderstandings, as a pilot there are moments of high workload, requiring your full attention and skill, in which you simply cannot be thinking about the right way to communicate in English. It must be natural and effortless so that all your attention is focused on making the right decisions in the right moment.

Airlines are well aware of this, making a perfect English level a more and more critical factor in their recruitment processes.

Mastering the English language is the single most important competency you need as a pilot.


Whether you are trying to get an ICAO level 4 or an ICAO level 6, the ICAO English language proficiency test is another process we have to go through on our way to becoming airline pilots.

It is a test of English for aviation which is needed for international pilots and controllers.

While most of us have to do this exam, it is quite hard to find information about it, so in this article we are going to try and explain and summarize the structure of the exam together with some tips to increase our ICAO level with the skills we have.

3. the structure of your icao english test

The structure of the test can vary slightly from center to center, but they all must comply with certain requirements, guaranteeing an equal opportunity for everyone. These requirements include:

1. Personal questions

The examiner asks the candidate about his professional experience. Some of these questions can be:

  • Why did you decide to become a pilot?
  • Tell me about your pilot training experience.
  • Describe your first solo flight.

2. Describing images

During the test, several pictures will be shown for the candidate to describe with as much detail as possible. They can show routine or emergency situations. The examiner can ask some follow up questions on the topic of the picture.

3. Listening

This part of the test can be divided into two parts:

  • In the first part the candidate listens to a radio communication between pilot and controller or between other airport staff. They will have to explain what is happening during the conversation with as much detail as possible and provide solutions for the problems that might be happening. They could even ask us to act out the role of the pilot. In this case it is important to use ICAO phraseology.
  • In the second part we have to read back communications between pilot and controller in different situations. Be careful and take as many notes as you can because the messages get longer and contain more information each time.

4. skills to be evaluated

The following 6 areas are rated during our English level exam:


Evaluation of pronunciation, accent, rhythm and intonation. While the influence of our mother tongue does not necessarily influence our mark, it is important that it doesn’t alter the meaning of words.


Control of grammatical structures and sentence patterns. The higher the complexity, the better the mark.


Variety and precision of the words we use. Vocabulary is idiomatic, nuanced and sensitive to register.


Speaking with natural and effortless flow, using connectors and discourse markers, and avoiding fillers.


Understanding of what a speaker intends in general or details of the information.


How well we respond in a conversation. It is better to ask for clarification than to be unsure of what is being talked about.


It is important to note that your final mark will be the lowest out of the six skills that are evaluated. For example, if we get a level 5 in all skills except for comprehension, in which we get a 4, your final mark will be a 4. Therefore, we must prioritize working on your weaker skills.

5. validity of your icao english level

Depending on your mark, your language proficiency will be valid for a certain period of time:

Any mark under 4 is not valid to fly in areas where English is used for radiotelephony communications.

6. How to prepare your ICAO English Language Proficienty Test

There are many ways to improve your English, and many of them can be done cheaply on your own: watching movies, reading books, listening to podcasts, and even sharing a meal with English speaking friends, especially if they are so kind as to give you a little correction every now and then.

Using such opportunities as much as possible is the best way to complement your specific Aviation English training, allowing you to boost your learning  at a reduced training cost.

At Quality Fly we offer specific Aviation English courses to help you get ready for the exam.

Our courses are designed for commercial pilots and air traffic controllers that want to study English, upgrade their level and meet the ICAO requirements for an advanced standard. It will also allow you to achieve the best English interview preparation.

Our courses run in small groups to create a more personalized learning experience and to guarantee that safety requirements are always met.


Would you risk to apply for the official ICAO Language Proficiency Test without knowing which skills are you missing to get your ICAO 6 level?

1. Get certainty of what your current level is, with specific assessment for each skill:

2.  Identify the areas where you need to focus your training efforts on to ensure that you will achieve the required level.

(*) The actual value of this GIFT is €20.
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