As an aside, the title of the e-mail was "Aviation Engilsih Language Proficiency requirement for Licensing" - Not knocking the sender, as I know that I don't have perfect grammar or spelling, but I just thought that it's a funny place for a spelling error. But I digress.
English is the International Language of Aviation. While this is not without some controversy, having a universal language that everyone talks on the radio in is vital for aviation safety. I don't know the exact history of how and why English is the Universal Language of aviation but I assume that it has to do with the fact that both the US and the UK were the initial leaders in aircraft development and they were the victorious parties in WWII. Regardless, pilots flying Internationally are required to speak English to air traffic control. It would be extremely difficult if every pilot had to learn multiple languages for every different country they flew to. As it is, it can be difficult for non-English speakers to learn English proficiently to fly to English speaking countries. Although, I've found that in general, non-English speakers in general are much better at knowing English than English speakers are at knowing other languages.
Here's a recording from an exchange between an Air China pilot and a ground controller at New York's JFK airport.
This is not to suggest that the pilot is not intelligent because he doesn't know English (besides, his English is far better than my command of any of the Chinese languages), but it shows that there could be very real potential safety concerns if pilots and air traffic control cannot communicate.
While initially the interaction of English speaking air traffic control and non-English speaking pilots was reserved for international airlines which theoretically would be able to control the language proficiency of their pilots, flight training itself is becoming more international. Canadian flight schools specifically market themselves toward international students where flight training is either less accessibly or prohibitively expensive. While this can be great business for Canadian Schools, it could increase the possibility that communication barriers could jeopardise aviation safety.
To address this, ICAO has implemented language proficiency guidelines. Transport Canada in complying with these guidelines has created a new language proficiency requirement in obtaining a pilot licence.
Here is a description by a Transport Canada employee that was posted on AvCanada. The full thread can be found HERE
The Facts regarding the Aviation Language Proficiency Test
As of March 5th, 2008, all licensed pilots in Canada (excluding permits, glider, gyroplane and ornithopter) will be required to meet a minimum language proficiency. Although this will be an ICAO requirement, every jurisdiction (country) has had the freedom to decide how their pilots will meet it. So -- this means that Canada and the USA (for example) will have different ways of assessing this proficiency. How language proficiency will be recognized when converting licenses from one country to another has not yet (that I am aware of) been decided.
The Aviation Language Proficiency Test (hereafter called ALPT) is a 20 question oral examination that is administered either over the phone or in person without the "Test Taker" and "Examiner" having direct visual contact (divider or back-to-back). It is not a test of aviation knowledge, but a test of the candidate's ability to understand and speak english in an aviation context. It can be taken prior to having any flight experience, prior to solo, etc. -- it just must be completed before the license is issued.
It has been decided that Pilot Examiners that test PPL candidates will be offered the opportunity to become ALPT Examiners. They will be required to attend a workshop put on by Transport Canada, and provide an example of 3 examinations (in person or recorded) in order to be delegated. Transport Canada Inspectors will NOT be conducting the examinations, just the initial and recurrent training for the Examiners.
The test can be administered in English or French, depending on the delegation of the examiner and the requirement of the candidate.
Although the ICAO standards has 6 levels of language proficiency, in order to simplify matters, Canada only recognizes 3 of them:
"Expert" - ICAO Level 6
"Operational" - ICAO Level 4
"Below Operational" - Less than ICAO Level 4
In Canada, you must have a minimum assessment of "Operational" (ICAO level 4) in order to hold a Canadian license.
They are scored on each of these 20 questions, and evaluated the following way:
-not more than 6 questions assessed at level 4 and no question assessed below level 4, they are awarded "Expert" ICAO level 6, and never have to take the test again.
-not more than 6 questions assessed at below level 4, they are awarded "Operational" ICAO level 4, and have to take the test again in 5 years.
-if they get more than 6 questions below level 4, they cannot hold an aviation license in Canada.
Re-tests may be done after a mandatory minimum waiting time, as defined by CARS 400.03 the same as the written examinations.
Regarding all current pilots:
Most (all?) current Canadian license holders have been assessed using their pilot file -- providing there was enough information (what language did they do their written exam in? Flight test? Last medical? Written correspondence?). Licenses issued after mid-November will have a language proficiency statement on them (example "Language Proficiency - English"). Transport Canada should be re-issuing all of the older, outstanding licenses to meet this requirement until the new "Passport Style" licenses are issued sometime later this year.
I hope this clears up some of the confusion.