Group editor Marty Kauchak provides an update on how three US ATOs are enabling their non-English speaking students to successfully complete their programs of study.

US-based airline training organizations (ATOs) are helping to meet the community’s surging demand for qualified professionals. Aspiring aviators from around the globe are journeying to America to complete academic programs and gain licenses and other credentials to pursue civil aviation careers. An important focus at many of these ATOs is the holistic learning strategy to allow non-English speaking students overcome language and culture barriers to finish their programs.

Student Profile Snapshots

By several accounts, US ATOs are one hub of academic excellence for non-native English-speaking students. Of significance, efforts are in place to seamlessly integrate this student segment into rigorous programs of instruction and with good reason. Nick Leontidis, the group president for CAE Civil Aviation Training Solutions, presented the imperative for this discussion when he offered, “As the language of the industry, English is an important part of the training.”

The industry leader noted about 600 cadets coming from all over the world train every year at one facility, CAE Phoenix - Aviation Academy, with about 50% of them non-native English speakers.

Similarly, Pete Nily, the manager of FlightSafety Academy, FlightSafety International’s (FSI’s) ab-initio flight school in Vero Beach Florida, observed that 44 countries are currently represented in training at the FlightSafety Academy. The largest group of students are from the Asia Pacific region followed by Europe and South America.

Also, within the FSI training portfolio, 70% of the training provided at the FlightSafety DFW South Learning Center is to individuals whose first language is not English. “Of that percent, 55% of the instruction provided at the Center is to Spanish-speaking customers who are primarily from Mexico, Central & South America,” Paul Ozmer, FSI’s regional director for Training Operations explained, and continued, “It may also be of interest to you that 25% of the training at DFW South is provided to people from the Pacific Rim, 15% are from Eastern Europe, and 5% from Brazil.”


Leaders for these US-based ATOs shared insights on how they are allowing their non-English-speaking students to establish and maintain competencies in the English language and culture.

One significant learning resource resides within the organizations’ instructor cadre.

At the Aviation Academy at CAE Phoenix, about 100 cadets come from China, training as part of the Air China cadet program. Leontidis pointed out for this cohort, “the Chinese cadets are required to complete CAE’s 100-hour intensive English course upon arrival. CAE’s team, specialized in aviation English, work closely with these cadets to support and accompany them in their journey.”

The corporate leader further emphasized, “As the leading training organization in the world, we strongly believe that flight instructors are at the core of training. Focusing on instructor quality, leveraging the CAE instructor key pillars (teaching skills, communication skills, style adaptability), is central to supporting the next generation training needs of our airline customers. More specifically, our instructors’ communication skills, teaching skills, including teaching English to our foreign students, and ability to adapt their training style to each trainee’s particularities and specific situation, is a culture that we continuously develop. CAE recruits, enables, and connects instructors to deliver high quality training.”

Similarly, FSI’s Ozmer offered, “A number of our instructors have experience interacting with and teaching people from other areas of the world whose first language may not be English.”

FlightSafety Academy’s Nily spoke of a second resource within an ATO’s instructional toolkit – screening – and noted students must pass English screening and meet prescribed FAA English standards prior to enrolling in the academy. The community subject matter expert told CAT, “Through our experience in delivering training to international students we are able to adapt the training delivery to meet varied cultural differences. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.”

To that end, the academy’s international students are provided various pre-course learning modules to acclimate the student to the rigors of the training environment, aviation English, ATC communication, and study and preparation strategies.

“Students are fully versed in the expectations and requirements to succeed as a professional pilot,” Nily emphasized and added, students who fail to meet prescribed English standards during pre-screening are not admitted into the training program. “If it is found that a student is struggling with English skills after enrollment there are several web-based programs and applications that may be recommended to aid the student to improve language skills.”

Elsewhere in the learning organization, learning and practicing in an English-speaking environment is most often a key challenge that CAE’s cadets coming from China, for example, typically face. Leontidis observed, “In general, they are more proficient with reading and writing as opposed to listening and speaking, which is critical for the comprehension of aviation concepts, as well as interaction inside and outside the classroom.” As a result, “We mainly focus on developing listening and speaking in English in our classes by utilizing role-play, presentation assignments and other interactive activities.”

FlightSafety DFW South Learning Center has also found that a small number of its customers are proficient in English during normal day-to-day conversations, but may experience some difficulty during technical subjects such as avionics, hydraulics, engine, systems and so on. As a result, this organization has incorporated some elements into its programs that are designed to help make their training as effective and efficient as possible. “For example, we have added animation and graphical information to our presentations that are ‘user friendly’ no matter what language the person speaks. We also provide extensive briefings/debriefings as needed in order to make sure that everyone in the class regardless of their native language understands the material fully,” said Ozmer.

While the majority of FlightSafety DFW South Learning Center’s training is provided in English by English-speaking instructors, it has instructors that are fluent in Spanish and Portuguese who can conduct a course in those languages. “And in some cases, the courseware has also been translated into Spanish,” added Ozmer.

For customers who speak other languages, FSI’s DFW center sometimes hires interpreters or recommends the services of an interpreter available to them. And finally, the center offers an online Aviation English Course that it recommends non-English speaking students take prior to training.

For its part, CAE takes advantage of several other tools and techniques to support its’ cadets learning English as part of their training program. Leontidis explained, “For example, we use digital recording to help cadets with pronunciation difficulties. This technique proves to be very successful. Other examples include listening to the Live Air Traffic Control feeds, participating to our intensive English course, observing our dispatcher team communicating with our crews, performing virtual instructor-led language training and a continuous immersion in an English-speaking environment.”

In addition, CAE’s instructional philosophy holds that it is imperative for its cadets to continue their efforts outside of the classroom in order to continue developing their English language skills. To that end, the company encourages the cadets to listen to music and watch aviation-related videos in English. According to Leontidis, there are many English software and web-based English Instruction sites available that his team gives as references to its cadets for additional practice. “Our cadets are using easily available online tools to practice whilst being offsite. Based on our experience, these software and web-based programs help cadets stay focused and help improve their listening comprehension, reading, grammar and vocabulary, with more time in class to work on interactive activities.”

Responding to Demand Signals

With the demand for aviation professionals projected to remain strong well beyond this decade, US-based ATOs featured in this article are building their competencies to support non-English speaking individuals in their academic programs. Cadres of capable instructors are supplementing their organizations’ other efforts to bolster the language and culture competencies of those students who do not speak English as their primary language.

Published in CAT issue 6/2018