Do Pilots Flying Into China Need To Know Mandarin?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What Language Do Pilots Speak

Remember that time you were making that approach into Shanghai International Airport on your way from spending a month in Brazil during your round-the-world trip when you thought to yourself, “My God, how are the pilots going to speak with the ground crew? Do they know Mandarin? Does the ground crew know Portuguese? If the plane crashes on the tarmac and someone sets up a memorial page on Facebook commemorating my fiery death, how many people do I think will “like” it?”

As the beads of sweat roll down your newly-tanned forehead and you grasp for that questionably-obtained bottle of Xanax you picked up in Recife, you realize that surely, like most of life’s problems, this one has probably already been addressed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the shadowy group that some speculate Mission: Impossible‘s Impossible Missions Force agency was based on (or more likely, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) agency).

According to the nefarious ICAO, pilots and ground crew in member countries (read: everyone but North Korea) needs to know English. So as USA Today pointed out, a Russian pilot flying into Brazil would be speaking in (and would need to be proficient in) English to the ground crew, and vice versa.

As Amendment 164 to Annex 1 of the charter states: “[P]ilots on international flights shall demonstrate language proficiency in either English or the language used by the station on the ground. Controllers working on stations serving designated airports and routes used by international air services shall demonstrate language proficiency in English as well as in any other language(s) used by the station on the ground.”

© 2021