Assessment of Non-technical Skills: A Threat to the Right to Work

In the very near future, the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) intend to publish - yet again - a Notice for Proposed Amendments (NPA) to the licensing regulations (JAR-FCL) to introduce the obligation to assess pilots' non-technical skills (NTS) when acquiring or renewing a licence.

ECA is very concerned about this initiative. While recognising the importance of NTS and encouraging good quality training in this area, ECA considers that the requirement proposed by the JAA is inadequate and wrong.

The JAA has already approved a requirement to assess NTS in the domain of operations. Here ECA/IFALPA managed to conclude an agreement with the JAA to perform such assessment, which included:

  • a methodology which has been validated by the authority,
  • that NTS are assessed by specifically trained and active inspectors and
  • only if technical failures have been identified can a failure be registered.

Furthermore, the whole assessment has to be made within the framework of the pilots' company culture.

The current draft NPA to JAR-FCL includes some of these elements. However, ECA contests the validity of these guarantees in the context of licenses. To begin with, ECA considers that instructors in Training Organisations do not have the necessary qualifications to perform the assessment. Even if standards were developed, the assessment could not be related to any airline company culture. Such a relationship is however crucial and cannot be replaced, as the JAA proposes, by something unknown until today, a "Training Organisation's Culture".

Besides the technical problems, ECA is concerned by the potential infringement of "the right to work"; that this new rule could cause. The only official validation of an NTS assessment methodology (JAR-TEL), showed that in 20% of occasions the assessors could not agree on their ratings. In practical terms, this means that one out of five candidates to obtain or renew a licence could be arbitrarily deprived of their right to work. ECA believes that this is not the correct way forward.

Furthermore, ECA has always stated that individual NTS assessments are an impossible task. The NTS performance of one person may differ depending on the other crew members. The professional future of an individual will be then dependent on the performance of a third party; is this fair?

ECA's disagreements with JAA's proposal are so important that we will be arguing strongly to have the whole proposal withdrawn. European pilots believe there is no way to give sufficient guarantees on this issue to balance out the complications and arbitrary risk that it brings. ECA will propose that EASA considers better ways to train NTS and to allow crews to manage their performance in an open system that gives confidence to the crews instead of threatening them.