Addressing the lack of qualified technical personnel: the development of ICAO’s Civil Aviation Safety Inspectors Tool

The international civil aviation network carries over four billion passengers around the world annually. In celebrating ICAO's 75th Anniversary Celebrations, we will be highlighting some of the crucial safety achievements that have enabled this. We hope you follow our series throughout the year, and we encourage you to use the #ICAO75 hashtag to share your thoughts and memories with us through social media.

The Chicago Convention and its supporting nineteen Annexes establish several key obligations for the Contracting States. Annex 19 — Safety Management, Appendix 1 identifies eight critical elements (CE) that assist States in meeting the obligations related to the oversight of various aviation entities and activities.

Based on  ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP) audit conclusions, having a lack, or an insufficient number of qualified inspectors or aviation personnel holding highly-specialized technical expertise to perform job functions and tasks, affects the sustainability of safety oversight systems. This lack has been identified as “CE-4” related and it remains one of the main obstacles to the implementation of an effective State safety oversight system.

This deficiency has often been determined as being the root cause of situations leading to the identification of Significant Safety Concerns (SSC) in the State by ICAO. The difficulties in attracting and retaining suitably qualified inspectors who can respond to the challenges inducted by the increased size, scope, complexity and rapid change of the aviation industry, has become one of the major issues for the competent authorities of the Member States.

ICAO provisions (e.g. Annex 19, Doc. 8335, Doc. 9734) are addressing the need for qualified personnel, competent to carry out the tasks assigned to them. However, in certain States, training a sufficient number of experts to fill the void is a major challenge. Furthermore, the increase in air transport activities in the coming decades and the limited training capacity offered in these states exacerbate the challenge. For these reasons, ICAO’s Member States asked for support.

In response, ICAO initiated a process in 2018 to create a database of highly-qualified and experienced experts capable of performing specialized regulatory tasks and make it available to Member States through a dedicated tool.

Annex 19, by its standards associated with critical elements, states the following:
CE-4 Qualified technical personnel
4.1 The State shall establish minimum qualification requirements for the technical personnel performing safety oversight functions and provide for appropriate initial and recurrent training to maintain and enhance their competence at the desired level.
4.2 The State shall implement a system for the maintenance of training records.

The database behind the ICAO Civil Aviation Safety Inspectors Tool (CASI-T), and the tool itself, are based on the concept of collecting relevant data regarding subject matter experts within different civil aviation domains, in line with a set of predetermined tasks’ requirements. Second, a professionally developed mechanism will be built and made available by ICAO for its Member States to select from the database of highly-qualified and experienced inspectors those who can complete periodical tasks, by request.

This tool, which has been designed as a solution for Member States who need experts to complete essential tasks on a short-term basis, will be embedded into the ICAO website. The complexity of this concept and its value reside in the significant number of such experts needed, while the need is multiplied by the large range of aviation domains to be covered.

ICAO has identified examples of the types of highly-specialized skills that are difficult for some Member States to perform. These include but are not limited to:

  • Specialized airworthiness inspections, checks, and approvals, including the cross-border transfer of an aircraft;
  • Specialized checks and approvals performed by flight operations inspectors during the certification process for issuing air operator certificates; and
  • The myriad of checks, inspections and approvals associated with the certification of aerodromes

Given the complexities of the concept, airworthiness and XBT activities specifically, were selected as an area of initial focus for the development of a CASI-T pilot project. Following the Secretariat’s request to support the process, a list of minimum requirements was developed by ICAO Airworthiness Pannel (AIRP) to define the criteria for an airworthiness expert to be eligible to perform the XBT specific oversight tasks.

ICAO is currently working on creating and populating the database; identifying the applicable criteria; and building the roster of suitable experts within the airworthiness/XBT area. When this is available, an expert within the database will match a request for a particular task, and a direct professional relationship between the envisaged expert(s) and interested Member State (CAA) will be established.

Building on the lessons learned during the demonstration phase of the tool in the airworthiness/XBT area, CASI-T will eventually be extended to cover all oversight activities.

About the author

Catalin Popa is a retired lieutenant-commander, former Romanian CAA’s inspector, now Technical Specialist within Operational Safety Section of ICAO’s Air Navigation Bureau. He has been continuously involved in military and civil aviation since 1995.

From May 2012 to October 2016, Popa was Romania’s representative at EUROCONTROL. His primary task was exploring new areas of cooperation, between Romania and EUROCONTROL and between Romania and the other member states.

In his current role at ICAO he is responsible for providing technical advice and services in relation to personnel licensing and flight operations, specifically in the implementation of the Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) of Annex 1, Annex 6 – Parts I, II and III, Annex 8 and Procedures for Air Navigation Services — Training (PANS-TRG, Doc 9868). He is also tasked with analyzing problems raised by States and International Organizations in the field of language proficiency, training and personnel licensing and recommend appropriate solutions.