Human Capacity Development

A Critical Component of Air Transport Sustainability


The international aviation community recognizes that there will be a shortage of skilled aviation professionals in the near future.  Human capacity development is a too-often neglected component of aviation development and in the modernization strategies of States and the industry.

The numbers surrounding this issue largely speak for themselves. Many hundreds of thousands of skilled Next Generation of Aviation Professionals (NGAP) air transport professionals will need to be trained and certified to keep our network running smoothly and safely over the next several decades.

Dr. Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, President of the ICAO Council

The gap equates to roughly 67 new pilots and 13 new air traffic controllers entering into service each and every day between now and 2036, in order to satisfy forecast global demand.

But besides the new personnel needed for the legacy air transport professions we are all aware of, current capacity enhancing and modernization projects being undertaken, for instance Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM), global aircraft tracking via space-based ADS-B, and other developments supported by new conceptual approaches such as airport Collaborative Decision-Making (CDM) and System-Wide Information Management (SWIM), will mean that many States will soon be utilizing new and cutting edge technologies to manage their air traffic volumes and related air transport needs.

Additionally, aviation is currently experiencing nothing short of a revolution in new air transport innovations, with new unmanned and autonomous aircraft entering into use which pose a wide range of challenges in terms of airspace integration and management at lower altitudes, for example in high-density urban environments where operational risks are of a much higher magnitude.

As aviation operations are moving into lower altitude airspace, at the other end of this spectrum, sub-orbital planes will soon be moving at super- or hyper-sonic speeds, and at very high and even stratospheric altitudes. Some of these new aircraft, balloons and other vehicles will continue to do what airplanes have traditionally done – transporting people and goods – but many will also be providing non-traditional services such as broadband internet access or other forms of communications or geolocation support.

ICAO is presently coming to terms with how all of these new technologies and players in air transport will need to be supported by a diverse and integrated range of communications, navigation and surveillance tools which are ground, air, and space-based. We are also advising national civil aviation administrations to prepare much sooner than later to support these burgeoning operations, an adaptation which will require new regulatory services and competencies.

But beyond regulatory preparedness, one of the most important enabling priorities for all of these developments will be the highly skilled professionals that will be needed to adopt and leverage these technologies to their optimized extent, while at the same time supporting core harmonization objectives for global aviation and ICAO’s Member States.

States’ voices have been loud and clear on the NGAP topic, and at ICAO’s 39th Assembly (A39), recognizing that aviation is a growing industry and one which is critical for promoting global connectivity and economic development and growth around the world, they noted that qualified and competent aviation professionals and a diverse aviation workforce are urgently needed to support growing aviation needs and the safe and efficient operation of the air transportation system.

They also stressed that partnerships between government, regional organizations, industry and educational organizations will be critical to attracting, educating and retaining the next generation of aviation professionals, with due consideration given to gender equality, encouraging Civil Aviation Authorities to communicate and cooperate with States’ education and labour bodies, ICAO’s TRAINAIR PLUS Programme (TPP) network and the aviation industry.

“States’ voices have been loud and clear on the NGAP topic, and at ICAO’s 39th Assembly they noted that qualified and competent aviation professionals and a diverse aviation workforce are urgently needed to support growing aviation needs and the safe and efficient operation of the air transportation system.”

And in a related Decision from our 38th Assembly (A38-14), Member States had also instructed the ICAO Council to develop one single set of long-term traffic forecasts from which customized or more detailed forecasts can be produced for various purposes, such as safety, air navigation systems planning and environmental analysis.

The Multi-disciplinary Working Group on Long-term Traffic Forecasts (MDWGLTF) was established to carry out this work, and it submitted its detailed results to the Economic Commission at A39. The follow-on personnel forecasts to be derived from this base data were completed as of April 2018.

With new numbers in hand our sector will be able to improve its awareness and plan for the future with greater certainty and effectiveness. Across the length and breadth of global aviation we are now operating some 28,000 aircraft through the services of 1,400 scheduled airlines and supported by more than 4,100 airports and 170 air navigation centres.

These numbers too will grow significantly in the coming decade, and help us to appreciate again, the sheer scale of the challenge confronting us.

ICAO guides all of its related work in this domain through its NGAP Programme, an activity which cuts across all of our current Strategic Objectives for air transport and which is closely aligned with the ICAO TPP network mentioned above and other strategies and initiatives pursued by our Global Aviation Training Office.

We are seeing great progress thus far in these endeavours, but we continue to need the active support and engagement of States and industry, working together through ICAO, to ensure our ultimate success.