What language does the Capt. and ATC speak in if they speak the same language while the F/O doesn't?

I had a flight last Thursday on China Eastern Airlines, my captain is Chinese, so is the ATC at ZSPD (obviously), but the first officer is American. This brought me to thinking, what language do they speak?
If they speak in English: it’s more complicated for both the ATC and the captain as their callsign would be “China Eastern” instead of what it usually is, “Dong Fang” in Chinese.
If they speak in Chinese, then the F/O wouldn’t be able to understand.
What is it then?


Edit: Learned something thanks to @JerryC making me re-read what ICAO says.
A facility that is designated for International use must be staffed by controllers competent in English.

So language used may be that normally spoken, or in the case of international flights, English.

“…the language used for radiotelephony communications may be the language normally used by the station on the ground or English. In practice, therefore, there will be situations whereby flight crew members will only need to speak the language normally used by the station on the ground…”

ie: Chinese crew speaking Chinese to Chinese ATC.

As for the flight crew? I don’t know. My assumption is that whoever is pilot monitoring will speak in whichever language they are more competent in. The FO could be competent in Chinese!


What @Aquila said is correct. All aircraft and flight-related talks must be done in English Language.

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Well, not really. I know as a matter of a fact that in China, ATC communications to Chinese crews are in Chinese. I am listening to LiveATC right now and I can confirm that.

Alright, you’re correct. Re-reading what ICAO says, it specifically words it as a requirement for International flights. Does not mention domestic.


If Pilots are not speaking english on the radio, then it is extremely unprofessional behavior. Most Countries including China have many international flights, of whom those pilots don’t speak the local language. If ATC and Aircraft decide to communicate in a different language, there is a risk that other pilots in the airspace lose situational awareness, which Is a big hazard!


That was my understanding, but I guess technically ICAO allows it…

Well, again, “Dongfang liangsiyaowu zhunbeiqifei paodao yaoba zuo” does not make sense at all, unless it is “东方两四么五准备起飞跑道么八左”
translation: “China Eastern 2415 ready for take off runway 18 left”

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Good point! Local ATC should speak English as there are many aircraft on the same frequency from different languages not just the domestic flights. An international language is used so that others listening can get a good situation awareness ( SA) by listening to the coms. Whilst international law dictates which language should be used several countries do tend to lapse into local lingo.

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Last year, I was lucky enough to visit my cousin in LGRP’s control room. I watched many takeoffs and landings! I asked him the same question, since flights come all over from Europe in the Summer. He said that he always speaks English. In the winter though, when there are little to no flights from Europe (only domenistic) the controllers speak Greek.


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