People who have a strong accent in their spoken Mandarin can no longer apply for a pilot's license or fly aircraft as of 2016, according to the civil aviation authority.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China said in a teleconference attended by air traffic control officials and airline managers that applicants for a license after Jan 1, 2016, must prove themselves capable of speaking standard Mandarin by passing the fourth-grade Mandarin test organised by the Ministry of Education, Mirror Evening News reported on Wednesday.
Pilots who already have a license but are unable to change their strong accent will be transferred to other posts rather than continuing to fly, the newspaper quoted the administration as saying.
It added the move was made because the accents of some Chinese pilots are prone to creating misunderstandings between them and air traffic controllers, without giving more details.
The Mandarin Ability Test examines Chinese nationals command of speaking and writing, and comprehension of written and spoken Mandarin. The test is divided into six levels of difficulty, the first grade being the easiest and sixth grade most difficult.
China has 56 ethnic groups who together speak more than 80 languages and dialects. Mandarin, the most widely used, has eight large groups of dialects.
Qian Wei, chairman of the AVIC Flight Academy, said smooth communication between pilots and ground controllers is crucial, and danger arises if a controller cannot understand a pilot.
"My academy would test applicants' Mandarin when they attend our admission interview, but no one has yet been rejected due to their accent," he said, explaining that all of his students have decent education backgrounds so they all speak Mandarin well.
Wang Ya'nan, deputy editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, said, "Fortunately, most of the terms used by pilots and ground controllers in their verbal exchanges are short words. Otherwise it could be very confusing for each of them."
Qian said that pilots who fly to several major airports, such as those in Beijing and Shanghai, must be able to speak "standard English" because their communication with controllers at those airports is done in English.
Publicity officials with the Civil Aviation Administration of China could not be reached by Wednesday night.