El Al plane
El Al plane Photo by Nir Keidar
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The country's pilots are refusing to take an English test - and may lose their international flight licenses as a result. The International Civilian Aviation Organization is demanding that pilots take an English test, due to the large number of accidents or near accidents caused by communication problems.

The Israel Civil Aviation Authority instructed the country's pilots to take the test by March 5, and made this a condition for renewing their flight licenses. However, the Israel Air Pilots Association instructed its members not to cooperate.

The ICAO made its demand that the country's pilots pass an English test back in 2009, and this was one of the reasons Israel was found to be not meeting international standards.

The test has a computerized component and an oral component, and the pilots receive grades of 1 to 6. A grade of 1-3 means failure; 4 is passing but means the pilot must be retested within three months; 5 gives the pilot an exemption from having to take the test for six years; and 6 gives the pilot a lifetime exemption. The test will be conducted for the IAA by two companies that won a tender.

The IAA and the pilots union disagree over the level of English that pilots should show, and therefore the union ordered its members not to take the test. If the pilots do not do so by the deadline, this means the country's international airlines may find themselves lacking pilots.

The Transportation Ministry senior director of international relations, Avner Ovadia, said that the IAA instated new regulations in keeping with the ICAO's instructions, and that these regulations were approved by the Knesset Economics Committee. If the pilots do not pass the English test by March 2011, they will be grounded, he said.