Assessing Non-technical Skills: What is the Aim?

The assessment of "Non-Technical Skills" (NTS) has once again been on the agenda of the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA). On the 22nd of March, the Regulation Steering Team (RST) debated the publication of a Notice for Proposed Amendment (NPA) to JAR-FCL to incorporate mandatory assessment of NTS when applying for or renewing pilot licenses.

ECA had written to this institution complaining about a number of procedural errors committed by the JAA Licensing Division when preparing this draft amendment. Basically, ECA complained about the lack of synchronisation with ICAO practice and a lack of transparency by omitting to indicate in their recommendations to the RST the dissenting opinion of ECA and other expert advisors. The RST has sent the draft proposal to the JAA Liaison Office and asked for a new Explanatory note that addresses the concerns of ECA.

In parallel, the Council of Transport Ministers has included a similar proposal in their working document concerning the revision of the EASA Regulation 1592/2002.

ECA is often asked why we do not support the idea of assessing NTS. The defenders of NTS assessment insist that "bad" NTS plays an important role in accidents and therefore it should be fought. In the name of safety, those who cannot demonstrate "good" NTS skills should be eliminated.

Apart of the technical issues that clearly show that NTS Assessment is not possible in the licensing environment, ECA considers this proposal as a new step towards the blame culture and a potentially arbitrary (ab)use of NTS checking.

For ECA, the way to improve safety is prevention rather than repression. Flight crews are very aware of the importance of NTS. They think that the best way to improve the crew?s performance in this area is through more and better training. Unfortunately, what we see is a tendency in the industry to reduce the hours of training. In other words, the authorities do not ensure enough training but will sanction pilots with unemployment if they fail one check based necessarily on subjective judgement.

By proposing an assessment of NTS some authorities believe they protect themselves from negative public opinion and escape from their responsibilities. And at the end of the day, it is much cheaper to fail someone in a check than to train him/her!

If the aim is safety, let's prevent and let's train properly. If the aim is cost reduction and face saving, let's go for the sanction!