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The reduction in air traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic is having a negative impact on the skills and knowledge of some aviation professionals due to long breaks between functions or being completely unable to work. An article prepared by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will help:

  • Understand the reasons for the deterioration of knowledge and the disappearance of skills;
  • Consider how this may affect you or your organisation;
  • Familiarize yourself with the best practices of the aviation sector to reduce emerging risks and prepare for a return to normal processes.

Understanding the reasons

Regardless of where you work in aviation or the number of people you are responsible for keeping safe, the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact on the skills and knowledge of the sector’s personnel.

The EASA Collaboration Group, which includes people from civil aviation oversight and the aviation sector, has sought to gain a broad understanding of the emerging issues:

  • Lack of practice: Due to the drastic reduction in air traffic, most aviation professionals are not performing their usual tasks, are working a completely different job, are not working at all, or are performing their functions significantly less often than usual. The extended period of reduced activity has now affected far more people and organizations than ever before, which means that it cannot be compared to familiar situations – individual sick leave, maternity and paternity or simply extended leave.
  • Lack of training: Due to the restrictions of the pandemic, the training of specialists, based on work in the classroom and in simulators, faces difficulties. While organizations are trying to expand their training activities, they face a number of challenges, from the closure of training centers, lack of training equipment and lack of trainers, whose knowledge may also have declined during this period. As a result, refresher training and/or refresher training, which has been identified as necessary, is taking place at an insufficient pace to cope with the expected recovery of the sector in the future. In addition, new procedures have been developed or old procedures updated during the pandemic to address the changed operations. Thus, given the training limitations, aviation professionals returning to work may not be effectively trained to work with updated systems and procedures.

Review and update your procedures based on the situation and train accordingly

Not updating existing curricula and leaving them as they were before the pandemic is not an effective way to combat the deterioration of skills and knowledge. During this exceptional period, specialists could spend a lot of time without work, and during this time many new procedures appeared or old ones were updated due to the pandemic.

Regardless of where you work or what you do, it’s important to review all existing procedures and keep them up-to-date if you haven’t already. Of course, when you change something with new or updated procedures, you also need to familiarize your employees with them.

This should be followed by periodic inspections or internal audits to see how things work in a real work environment and to make sure that the procedures are appropriate and actually being followed. The more detailed you are in explaining the need for implemented changes, the more likely they will be properly accepted. In general, it is recommended to involve employees directly in the development of new procedures or training materials as early as possible.

Good practice suggestions

A working group led by EASA, made up of safety experts from different aviation fields, has proposed best practices that we suggest you consider to address the decline in qualifications and lack of practice. They may not be relevant for all organizations, so when considering which best practices to apply, it is important to consider the nature of the organization’s operations and key challenges.

When staff are on downtime or long-term leave:

  • Communicate changes to employees immediately to avoid information overload before they return to work.
  • If possible, support training activities during quarantine or low air traffic.
  • Promote digital and distance learning, use webinars to update staff on key areas.
  • Introduce periodic refresher training and integrate new or changed procedures into it – ideally at the beginning of the training.

As staff prepare to return to work:

  • Ensure a gradual return to normal duties to allow for reacquaintance.
  • Identify which skills and job functions are most at risk of being misunderstood and, if possible, provide tailored training.
  • Create a buddy system so that employees who have just returned to work get enough support from those who have been working during the quarantine.
  • Designate staff to be responsible for supporting returnees and answering questions related to the specifics of the job during shifts.
  • Introduce a mandatory pre-shift briefing to update staff on the latest developments.
  • Increase the number of personnel performing maintenance and support functions as much as possible.

Other good practices:

  • Postpone plans to purchase new equipment or update procedures unless it is related to the pandemic or mitigating its consequences.
  • When you see yourself deviating from the curriculum, do a risk assessment. It is important to ensure that any deviations comply with applicable legislation and/or applicable exemptions.
  • Requests for exceptions should only be made after a risk assessment.