Say again? Challenges and Solutions: Providing Online Aviation English Training to Air Traffic Controllers in Brazil

Concurrent Session 3

Brief Abstract

Learn about the growing field of Aviation English language training. Enact pilot and air traffic control radio communications. Overview problems and solutions related to course design and contribute your own ideas for creating conditions for effective oral language skills development online.


Alan Orr coordinates the development and design of online aviation English courses and assessments for international air traffic controllers and pilots. As part of the ERAU team, he contributes to instructional design & asset creation, curriculum & materials development, and project management. Before coming to Embry-Riddle, he taught English language and literature courses at universities in the US and abroad.

Extended Abstract

“Air Traffic Control: Saudi Boeing 747, 14 miles. Report in sight. 

Pilot: Kazak 1907, Report how many miles?” (Guruswamy, 1996) 

The words you have just read are some of the final transmissions from a tragic aircraft collision that took place over India in 1996. In 1998, Indian delegates proposed that the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) begin to develop guidance for the use of English as the international language for pilot and air traffic control operations (ICAO Journal, 2013). Now, in 2022, Aviation English language training is a growing field that introduces unique instructional design challenges requiring innovative thinking and nuanced solutions. 

The aim of this session is to present a burgeoning success story. Over the past two years, an aeronautical university in the United States has been providing an online Aviation English training course to hundreds of air traffic controllers in Brazil. The controllers are enrolled in the course to increase their proficiency from “Pre-operational Level 3” to “Operational Level 4” (see A-7 in ICAO Doc 9835). By making this improvement in proficiency, these controllers are enabling their country to manage larger amounts of international air traffic. This session will highlight the many challenges and solutions that a team of instructional designers, curriculum developers, and instructors has employed to create and deliver an effective course. 

This session will begin with an interactive introduction to Aviation English and pilot and air traffic controller communications. Participants will engage in role-plays with a partner using voice-only communications, airport diagrams, and small toy planes to learn about the fundamental concepts and oral language skills of Aviation English. A key takeaway for instructional designers will be the importance of gaining exposure to the professional skills required by students as a way to inspire designers to develop ideas for improving and enhancing their courses. 

Next, the presenter will overview both the challenges that arose and the solutions that were adopted to provide both asynchronous and synchronous Aviation English training to air traffic controllers in Brazil. After doing so, the presenter will prompt the participants to work in small groups to brainstorm additional solutions for targeting oral language skills in these modalities. The participants themselves will have the opportunity to be the instructional design experts who can propose new ideas that may shape the design of Aviation English courses in the future. 

Finally, the session will come to a close with the presentation of authentic communications from tragic aviation accidents in which a lack of adequate Aviation English proficiency played a role. By doing so, participants will be exposed to the high-stakes relevance of Aviation English training courses and be encouraged to reflect on how the courses that they design have a lasting impact on the world’s operations as well.


Guruswamy, K. (1996, November 13). Transcript in air collision that killed 349 showed all appeared normal. Associated Press. 

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). (2010). Manual of implementation of the language proficiency requirements (Document 9835-AN/453) (2nd ed.). International Civil Aviation Organization. 

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). (2013). Language Proficiency requirements: Critical to aviation safety. ICAO Journal, 68(5), 64.