Why take an ICAO French exam when you’re French?
I know that taking an ICAO French exam may sound weird – not to say preposterous – as I’m neither a pilot, nor an air traffic controller, and I’m a native French speaker. I just sat for this exam for I needed to learn further about the aviation French test format. I did that to help native English speakers fly in French airspace. I passed the exam, but it wasn’t that easy.
ICAO French exam centre
The DGAC ICAO French exam centre is to the southwest of Paris. You just need to go to Orly airport, and it’s next door. It’s not exactly in Paris-Orly. The test facilities are in Paray-Vieille-Poste, i.e. right here:
As I’d taken the English FCL .O55 in the very DGAC exam centre ten years before, I expected about the same methodology. Yet I was a bit wrong. The test is made up of three papers:
- Simulated flight
- Accident or incident report
Each of us was given a seat, a computer and a headset in the DGAC lab. A jury member explained very well what we had to do. He spoke in French only. We were told that it wouldn’t be a language proficiency test but a professional test. We typed our names before starting, then we stowed the keyboard behind the screen so that we could have room for writing down our answers. We were then given a bundle of sheets which looked like the English listening test I’d taken in 2013. As expected, here are the specifications:
- 19 questions
- Gap-filling test
- Pen needed for filling the gaps
- The first question is an ATIS in French with several blanks.
- Each soundtrack is played twice
- You can’t know the context of the clearance or soundtrack, nor can you have a map or a chart relating to the situation
- Listening score out of twenty
- The ATIS is counted as two points.
I’d advise jotting down as soon as possible. Don’t waste time during the first listening. You can correct everything during the second listening and even after if you have time.
The DGAC simulated flight in French is almost the same as the one in English, i.e. you shall read back everything. As the version #10 of the DGAC manual of phraseology has recently been published, you can say what you like in terms of numbers. There’s no problem with that provided that the virtual ATC and the virtual pilot understand each other. The main difficulty remains in reading back everything. You’ve got to be well organised and well trained before taking the exam. Here is what you are given during this paper:
- The call signs used for that simulated flight
- Where you come from
- Where you are flying to
- Your position
- Your type of aircraft
- 4 sequences which can be prepared in advance on a draft sheet
It’s completely virtual as you shall be speaking in French when entering English-speaking airspace.
Accident / incident report
Again, the examiner explained in French this paper. We were given an accident / incident summary which came from a British article or investigation report. We had enough elements and topics to deal with. We summarised in speaking French about our unusual situation after reading. We then had one or two questions about the report summary.
ICAO French levels and debrief
We all waited for the results in the waiting room. We were given our ICAO levels, and a short debrief after around a quarter of an hour. We started at 10am, and we left at 12.15pm. We weren’t given our individual language skill levels, nor did I receive them when I received the pass attestation. As we were explained during the introduction, it isn’t a language skill evaluation. At least it can’t be a language proficiency exam as recommended in ICAO DOC 9835. The importance of listening without context and reading back everything is capital. There’s little interaction but during the simulated flight. You can get prepared thanks to this training: