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We explored the perspectives of Chinese pilots, a rapidly expanding sector in commercial aviation, on how they learn and use Aviation English (AE). A focus group with ten Chinese aviation professionals and in-depth semi-structured interviews with three Chinese commercial pilots were conducted to investigate their views of AE’s pertinence from flight training to line operations. The findings indicate the reliance on rote learning in AE training and the importance of experiential learning for interacting with different AE varieties. The pilots highlighted increased workload when interacting with unfamiliar accents and country-specific phraseology; understanding written communication was also mentioned as a challenge. This research enriches the account of non-native-English-speaking pilots on how they achieve communicative competence and how current standards aid and affect their flight operations. We discuss the relevance of an immersive, peer-assisted, and technology-aided training strategy that would take advantage of the inherent knowledge and workload asymmetries in AE speakers.