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Pilots of Japanese airlines working international flights will be required to pass a national English exam to avoid accidents due to miscommunication with air traffic controllers, transport ministry officials said Wednesday.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport will introduce the exams in fall 2006 and mandate acquisition of the qualification beginning in March 2008, they said.

A pilot’s English-language capabilities will be comprehensively tested in terms of pronunciation, grammar and comprehension through an interview in which air transport operations will be generally discussed.

Under criteria setting a native English speaker’s capabilities at level 6, pilots will be required to achieve level 4 or higher.

Current Japanese pilot-qualification exams merely test if the applicants can communicate with traffic controllers in plain English, and put little emphasis on overall English conversation skills.

The International Civil Aviation Organization revised the Convention of International Civil Aviation in 2003 to require international flight pilots to have their English skills certified from 2008.

Poor English skills on the part of pilots have caused several air accidents worldwide. In 1990, a pilot on an airliner in Colombia was unable to tell the traffic controller that his plane was running out of fuel before it crashed.

Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways said they are planning to require all their pilots to be qualified as the ratio of international flights in their overall operations is expected to rise, given that Tokyo’s Haneda airport is set to accept more international flights.

The revised Aviation Law will come into force in Japan next April to achieve the ICAO requirements.

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