Capacity & Efficiency

Aviation Training: The Indispensable Element of a Competency Building Strategy

Tying Competency Building to Strategy

Because people are an organization’s greatest asset, it goes without saying that training and developing employees needs to be a key and explicit part of an organization’s strategy. There are many reasons why an organization should prioritize investing in their people. One of the most compelling rests in the fact that when done strategically, money spent on developing human capital boosts productivity more than any other spend. For aviation organizations, this represents a major capital investment because it is imperative that those making decisions are equipped with the proper skill set and competencies to make the right decisions.

It is concerning that recent research from PricewaterhouseCoopers found that less than half of the human resources leaders polled, were confidant that they have access to the right talent to execute their business strategy.  Attracting, selecting, developing, rewarding, and retaining the best talent possible is vital.

While the first step is attracting and selecting the best people, it is also important that these individuals are developed through a robust competency building process to ensure the best return for an organization’s human capital investment. Competent employees become more productive and when their accomplishments are recognized and rewarded – they tend to stay with the organizations that develop and value them.

A competency building strategy supports human resource capital development in an organization. The key success factors for developing a competency building strategy include:  identifying the organizational guiding principles, conducting a performance needs assessment, and ensuring an implementation and measurement plan.


Organizational Guiding Principles

Before embarking on a performance needs assessment, it is critical to set the tone. Identifying the organizational guiding principles would ensure that a competency building strategy reaches the impact that is both desired and needed, to address an organization’s performance needs.



A competency building strategy must be tied to an organization’s corporate vision and direction, as well as its inherent organizational values. It should be led by, and have the full support of, the organization’s top management. In addition, the right stakeholders must be involved at all levels.

Organizational visioning requires clearly articulating expected outcomes as a well as the efforts and processes required for reaching said outcomes. As with every other direction-setting exercise, an organization must clearly articulate, decide and support their desired competency building outcomes.

Successful organizations maximize their potential with competency development programmes to provide them with a sustainable competitive advantage: the learning organization. According to Senge, “Learning organizations [are] organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.”  The key principle of a learning organization is transformation through systems thinking, primarily at three levels: aligning objectives and building a shared vision, empowering individuals and cultivating communities to stimulate innovation.

Transparency is a vital element of the process. In order to address performance issues, a clear identification of problem areas and organizational performance issues is required. The organizational climate must promote an openness to discussing needs and issues and an environment that allows for all employee voices to be heard.

Performance Needs Assessment: the performance gap

A performance needs assessment forms the basis for structured learning and development. It systematically identifies the standard of performance that is being achieved, or actual performance, and the standard of performance required, or optimal performance. The difference between these two performance levels is the performance gap.

Analysing the gap can be challenging in that it is sometimes quite clear where the deficiencies are, but it is not always obvious why the deficiencies occur, and at times, the causes of the deficiencies are misidentified.

The Organizational X-Ray

An organizational x-ray is a systemic analysis which provides a high-level perspective of the performance issues within an organization. The x-ray requires interviewing senior management, collecting existing documentation such as position descriptions and general background information on the organization and/or division. Past and current learning and development initiatives, as well as their results can also provide useful insight.

A performance needs assessment distinguishes itself from the traditional training needs assessment, in that it focusses on all the interdependent elements that affect performance.  All too often, performance issues are linked to outdated processes and procedures or job descriptions that are not a right fit with operational and business needs.

The Critical Incident Technique

The critical incident technique is employed to identify the precise flaws in actual performance, essentially digging deeper into performance issues. Through qualitative observation of human performance, rich and contextualized data that describe real-life situations emerge, more than with a traditional task analysis. The findings provide insight on why the performance gap is occurring, as well as what could be done to close it.

Shortly before creating the technique, John Flanagan made the following observation:

“Too often, statements regarding job requirements are merely lists of all the desirable traits of human beings. These are practically no help in selecting, classifying, or training individuals for specific jobs. To obtain valid information regarding the truly critical requirements for success in a specific assignment, procedures were developed in the Aviation Psychology Programme for making systematic analyses of causes of good and poor performance.

Essentially, the procedure was to obtain first-hand reports, or reports from objective records, of satisfactory and unsatisfactory execution of the task assigned. The cooperating individual described a situation in which success or failure was determined by specific re-ported causes.”

The results of the critical incident technique should be measured against an optimal performance standard. Such a benchmark can be obtained through research on the workforce structure of an optimally performing organization in order to generate further information about the knowledge, skills, abilities and other personal characteristics (KSAOs) that are critical to performing the various target jobs.


The Population Analysis

Collecting demographic information on the people to be developed is not only useful but necessary to best tailor a competency building programme with maximum results. It is also critical to get their input through focus groups, interviews and/or surveys to better understand their needs. Furthermore, an organizational climate survey provides insights on employee perceptions about their working environment and how this affects their own individual performance.

Planning for Growth

As much as looking at the background is critical, forward-looking organizations must take into account their future needs when analysing a performance gap. This would require looking at any upcoming projects, all forthcoming regulatory changes and strategic plans.

Implementation and Measurement Plan

Implementation and measurement are iterative processes that require adjustment along the way. It is also key to refer back to the organizational guiding principles, as well as the optimal competency profile.

The implementation plan incorporates recommendations for a variety of approaches to meet the competency building needs. It also identifies priorities in relation to the whole and its divisions. It indicates what competency building programmes need to be custom built, in addition to which learning and development programmes already exists, as well as optimal suppliers.

A measurement plan will take into account many aspects when assessing the success of a competency building strategy. Using a balanced scorecard approach, it should consider key performance indicators (KPIs) related to elements such as financial measures, customer satisfaction, internal business processes, and learning and growth. Most importantly, one cannot fix what they cannot measure, therefore the measurement plan must be defined at the project outset.

Impact on Mission and Bottom Line

While many factors interdependently affect an organization’s bottom line, the proper development of a measurement plan from the project offset can enable organizations to better pinpoint what degree the performance improvement initiatives have had on the bottom line.

  • Operational Performance: Improvements in operational performance can be observed rather easily, especially if a snapshot of performance is taken before and after all performance improvement interventions. In order to deem an intervention successful, changes must be visible and impactful.
  • Customer Satisfaction: Perhaps one of the best metrics for measuring success is the customer’s appreciation of improved performance and this can be done by comparing previous surveys and testimonials with new data collected.
  • Employee Satisfaction: If we consider that employee satisfaction impacts employee retention positively, and we recall that one key problem is to measure a competency building strategy on its impact and capacity to retain high performing talent, then this might be one of the most important measures.

Taking a Systemic and Integrated Approach

Organizations have become advanced in terms of developing master plans for infrastructure, as well as with acquiring state of the art technology and equipment. Equal planning efforts and investment are required to select and develop the people who will ultimately drive the organization forward. Talent management and development is a strategic issue which requires a systemic and integrated approach in order to ensure optimal organizational performance.


About the Author

Kristina Schneider is the Senior Director, Operations and Learning Services at Aviation Strategies International (ASI) in Montreal, Canada, overseeing the activities of the ASI Institute. She also manages the operations and educational technology for the Global ACI-ICAO Airport Management Professional Accreditation Programme (AMPAP). She holds an undergraduate degree in Communication Studies as well as a Master’s degree in Educational Technology from Concordia University, and has recently completed a Graduate Diploma in Integrated Aviation Management at McGill University. She joined the team of ICAO TRAINAIR PLUS Training Development Course Instructors in 2012 and Training Instructor Course in 2015.

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The Importance of Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation

Environmental causes have gained a strong following in recent years, as more proof emerges that we need to take greater care of the planet. This move towards being more eco-friendly applies not only to the automotive industry, but to aviation as well.

That’s where the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) comes into play. The CORSIA calls for international aviation to address and offset its emissions through the reduction of emissions elsewhere (outside of the international aviation sector), involving the concept of “emissions units”.


To learn more about the CORSIA, watch the video below:


Register now for the ICAO Seminar on CORSIA from 10 – 11 May at the Montréal Headquarters. The objective of this seminar is to share information on the design elements and implementation aspects of CORSIA, including a summary of the outcomes and lessons learned from a series of regional seminars. It will also serve as an opportunity for States that could not participate in the regional seminars to share their current readiness to implement CORSIA and conduct an assessment of related assistance needs.

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Security & Facilitation

The latest technology and solutions for security checkpoints

Register now for the ICAO Global Aviation Security Symposium, being held in collaboration with Airports Council International (ACI). The event will take place from 12-14 September at ICAO Headquarters in Montréal, Canada. It will bring together AVSEC professionals from around the globe to enhance the mind-set towards aviation security. It will also encourage international cooperation and collaboration to address the threat posed by terrorists targeting civil aviation by reinforcing, strengthening and promoting the international framework of aviation security standards.

How can airports provide effective security while improving passenger experience and making the most of space and resources? With a renewed emphasis on detecting explosives, the evolution of technology has become an imperative. Organized in collaboration with Airports Council International, the ICAO Global Aviation Security Symposium (#AVSEC2017) will deal with this issue.

Part of the programme of AVSEC2017  will be dedicated to exploring the latest technology and solutions in security checkpoints and sharing best practices with the senior State officials, airport executives and industry experts in attendance.  Delegates will be able to participate in workshops and attend demonstrations.

Smart Security Workshop

In recognition of the challenges presented by growing passenger numbers, continuously evolving threats, and limited resources, the Smart Security programme was launched in 2013 to strengthen security, increase operational efficiency and improve the passenger experience.  The Smart Security Workshop at AVSEC2017 will bring insights from trials and deployments that have been undertaken through this programme at many airports worldwide, and provide an opportunity to look to the future for screening technologies.  The challenges and possibilities presented by Computed Tomography (CT) will be discussed alongside advancements in checkpoint configuration and detection algorithms.

The innovative technologies and processes implemented at the airports participating in Smart Security have been of great benefit and the experiences gained provide tangible examples and best practices that can be rolled out worldwide.

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Announcing Capt. Jeff Skiles as Keynote Speaker at the ICAO / ACI Wildlife Strike Hazard Reduction Symposium

SKY TALKS: NUCTECH presents the challenges of air cargo screening

Embracing aviation security as a mind-set beyond a set of standards


As Earth Day is celebrated around the world, aviation is doing its part to protect the environment

Every year on April 22, people around the world come together to celebrate Earth Day and raise awareness about environmental protection.

Since the dawn of powered flight, the aviation community has been committed to reducing fuel usage and the consequential environmental impact. In the late 1960s, this expanded to the establishment of the first policies and standards related to aircraft noise, with other crucial areas such as air quality and climate change quickly following. ICAO has played a leading role throughout, but we have also undertaken this role by learning from the audacious initiatives of our member States and key stakeholders.

In short, by working with Member States and the aviation industry, we have taken important steps to ensure our industry does its part in making life more sustainable for the planet.

A shining example of these efforts was showcased earlier this year, when the Government of Ecuador invited Representatives of ICAO’s 36-State Governing Body, along with ICAO’s Secretary General Dr. Fang Liu and members of the ICAO Secretariat, to visit their country and to learn their strong legal and political commitment to environmental protection.


Mr. Ivan Fernando Arellano Lascano, Ecuador’s Representative on the ICAO Council, pointed to the visit as an opportunity for the highest authorities in aviation to undertake important political and technical discussions regarding the environment.



“The Council State Visit to Ecuador impressed upon ICAO’s leadership the importance of our positions on aviation environmental protection, not only in terms of objectives like carbon-neutral growth, but also in terms of the protection of the world’s geographic heritage. This latter priority even extends to areas which also happen to be the site of new airport infrastructure, as exemplified by our Ecogal facility”.

The visited included tours of the infrastructure that Ecuador is developing, including the remarkable Galapagos Ecological Airport, “Ecogal”, which is unique in the world for the measures it has implemented to preserve the islands’ ecosystems and biodiversity.



In addition to the state-of-the-art technologies and practices being implemented at the Galapagos Ecological Airport in the Islands, a fragile world heritage site with tremendous biodiversity, sustainability issues specific to each of Ecuador’s three distinct continental regions – coastal, Sierra, and rainforest – were presented.


In Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, the construction of the new and high-altitude “Mariscal Sucre International Airport” presented not only technical challenges in terms of air navigation services and environmental impact, but also cultural heritage challenges when significant archaeological treasures were uncovered during its construction. Ecuador’s experience in appropriately managing these challenges will be invaluable to future international guidance regarding these situations. To give another example, at the “Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport”, in Guayaquil, a facility which serves the country’s principle largest urban area and which has received numerous awards for its outstanding airport service quality, Ecuador highlighted its social inclusiveness by way of a programme that actively encourages the employment of disabled people at the airport through a specific recruitment initiative.



ICAO’s Council President, Dr. Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, recognized and highlighted the significance of both Ecuador’s efforts and of the Council’s Visit in a Keynote Address he gave in Guayaquil, taking this opportunity to praise Ecuador’s regional leadership and to further encourage the region’s ambitions as a whole.



Given the strong focus of the visit on environmental Issues, it is important to recognise that the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) offset the full travel CO2 footprint of the ICAO Council trip to the Galapagos Islands using carbon credits from the LifeStraw Project. The number had been determined using the ICAO Carbon Calculator for the flights from Montreal – Quito – Guayaquil – Galapagos – Quito – Montreal.

As States and the aviation industry work together towards the implementation stages of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), many have commented that it is important to find offsetting projects that not only reduce CO2 emissions, but also have other benefits such as economic or social impacts.



The  ICAO Seminar on the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA)  event is being held from 10 – 11 May 2017 in Montréal, Canada

Following the adoption of the historical Assembly Resolution A39-3 on the development of a global market-based measure for international aviation in the form of CORSIA, full efforts are underway in preparing for the implementation of the CORSIA and in providing necessary assistance and capacity-building for stakeholders.

The objective of this seminar is to share information on the design elements and implementation aspects of CORSIA, including a summary of the outcomes and lessons learned from a series of regional seminars on CORSIA being held in five ICAO regions from 27 March to 20 April 2017. The seminar will also serve as an opportunity for States that could not participate in the regional seminars to share their current readiness to implement CORSIA and conduct an assessment of related assistance needs.

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Security & Facilitation

The roadmap for implementing new travel document specifications

Travel documents are continuously evolving. Though the effectiveness of their advancements are directly tied to the application of existing or enhanced security features and specifications, it is critical that all pertinent stakeholders are aware of new and enhanced international specifications.

Past experiences have shown that, although ICAO’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on the Traveller Identification Programme (TRIP) endorsed new specifications in the form of Technical Reports (TR), sharing these on the ICAO website was not enough to trigger stakeholders to implement them. The challenge with having new material is that its doesn’t reach the entire audience. Additionally, their importance, and the reasons for revising the specifications, are not clearly communicated.

The introduction of new travel document technologies is a gradual learning process.  Not only do the organizations issuing these documents have to adapt them, but so do those who manage travelers at points of entry and departure. For States to fully benefit from improved document functionality, all systems and processes have to be effectively modernized. New reading systems, storage media and the measures required to protect privacy and ensure data integrity and interoperability, must be addressed.



Guidance is needed for the implementers of both inspection systems and machine readable technology documents (MRTDs) on the implementation strategy that is to be followed.

With this in mind, a roadmap for the implementation of new specifications has been developed to raise awareness on key advancements of travel document specifications, and to ultimately support the introduction of new specifications. The roadmap itself does not impose additional specifications. It is the guidance which provides information about the implementation of new specifications.

The roadmap will be published each time new specifications are adopted, and will be made available through a range of channels, such as the ICAO website, the ICAO TRIP Platform, symposia and seminars, and through ICAO’s TRIP Magazine.

For a more detailed description of the roadmap and strategy for implementing new specifications, you can read this article in full on page 27 of Volume 11, No. 2 of the ICAO TRIP Magazine, available here.




Register now for the ICAO Traveller Identification Programme (TRIP) Regional Seminar on traveller identification management. The Seminar will take place from 11 to 13 July 2017 in Hong Kong SAR, China. The focus of the event will be on the five elements of the ICAO TRIP strategy that include: machine readable travel document (MRTD) standards, specifications and best practices, secure travel document issuance, robust evidence of identity processes, and information sharing technologies relevant to the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on combatting foreign terrorist fighters. ICAO will also be holding a TRIP Symposium from 24 to 26 October (Montréal, Canada). More details on those events to follow.

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Announcing Capt. Jeff Skiles as Keynote Speaker at the ICAO / ACI Wildlife Strike Hazard Reduction Symposium

Register now for the ICAO / ACI  Wildlife Strike Hazard Reduction Symposium . The Symposium aims to increase international awareness of the wildlife strike threats to aircraft operational safety, and will serve as an international framework for exchanging ideas and cooperative efforts to create global strategies that allow for better management of wildlife strike hazards.

Jeff Skiles started flying at the age of 16 and has logged over 23,000 hours in the sky, but only three minutes of that time catapulted him into the public eye.

First Officer of US Airways Flight 1549, later dubbed “the Miracle on the Hudson,” Skiles and Capt. Chesley Sullenberger avoided catastrophe after a flock of Canada geese impacted the aircraft, causing both engines to fail. Skiles credits the successful landing in the Hudson River and the safety of all 155 passengers and crew on board not to a miracle, but to intense training, preparation, teamwork, organization, and learning from other pilots’ successes and failures.

Jeff Skiles will be Keynote Speaker at the ICAO / ACI Wildlife Strike Hazard Reduction Symposium. He will speak about what he learned from his experience, including crisis management at 3,200 feet and how to adapt and react to a change of course.

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Capacity & Efficiency

Building global training capacities by enhancing regional cooperation

The ICAO Global Aviation Training Programme is the point of contact for both Member States and the aviation community at large. They are responsible for planning, managing and coordinating all ICAO aviation training activities, and for providing skills development guidance to States and industry. The GAT programme is also responsible for establishing worldwide training and qualifications standards and frameworks.

ICAO’s TRAINAIR PLUS Programme (TPP) is managed by the GAT Programme. It is a cooperative global training network that includes 92 training organizations from close to 70 ICAO Member States.

Last week, the Fourth ICAO Global Aviation Training and TRAINAIR PLUS Symposium took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The event, which was hosted by Ethiopian Airlines from 11-13 April, was the first GAT Symposium to take place on the African continent. The annual event brings Member States and training organizations together to explore new collaboration and partnership opportunities. It also serves to increase awareness  about important short- and long-term aviation training capacity priorities.



During her opening address, ICAO Secretary General, Dr. Fang Liu, spoke to these concerns. She pointed to the positive and robust growth trends in the global air transport network and the imminent doubling of its flight and passenger volumes.


“Over the next twenty years, this projected growth will require many new skilled personnel such as pilots, maintenance engineers and air traffic controllers,” she stressed. “These pressing needs for aviation personnel, especially in light of competition for their skills from other high-tech sectors, makes clear for us that we must address our persisting training capacity gaps sooner than later, ultimately ensuring a sustainable skilled workforce for the future of civil aviation.”



Mr. Meshesha Belayneh, the Deputy Director of the Technical Cooperation Bureau and Acting Chief of the GAT Office, addressed the challenges faced by States. “In some regions of the world, training capacity is lower than the expected demand for skilled and technical personnel, given the various projections of traffic growth. States will have no other choice than to train regionally or globally. This becomes a real issue for States with requirements for training for certain categories of personnel varying from one State to another”.



Belayneh addressed the challenges training organizations face:

  • Social, political and cultural environments that hinder training development and delivery;
  • The lack of human, financial and material resources;
  • Redundancy of similar training in the region;
  • Available training that is not communicated or coordinated;
  • The lack of flexibility and adaptability with independent processes and methodologies; and
  • Non-recognition of certificates

“We believe it is fundamental that training organizations, within the same geographical region, join forces to establish a regional training association,” he said. By sharing resources, expertise and costs, training organization in a region can work together to identify and implement training solutions.

“Training organizations that take part in a regional training association would benefit from networking and new business opportunities by transferring knowledge”. Belayneh further noted that collaboration would increase training capacities since more instructors, experts and courses would become available.

The Secretary General took time to recognize training organizations from 14 States which have attained various TRAINAIR PLUS Programme milestones. These training centres were based in  China, Egypt, Ethiopia,  India,  Japan,  the Republic of Korea, Mongolia,  New Zealand, Paraguay,  Russia,  Saudi Arabia,  Singapore, Tunisia and  Venezuela.


The ICAO TRAINAIR PLUS Programme  is open to all training organizations and operators, provided they are recognized or approved by their respective governments. The network consists of the following four categories of membership:

  • Associate Members: training organizations that successfully pass an on-site assessment;
  • Full  Members: TRAINAIR PLUS Members that develop Standardized Training Packages (STPs);
  • Regional Training Centres of Excellence (RTCEs): regional TRAINAIR PLUS-leading Full Members that can develop ICAO courses using ICAO provisions (Annexes and guidance material); and
  • Corporate  Members: aviation  institutions  and  industry  organizations that participate  in the  various  TRAINAIR PLUS Programme activities and have access to Members of the network.

To find out more information about the GAT programme and other ICAO training initiatives, contact the GAT office here.

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Security & FacilitationSKY TALKS

SKY TALKS: NUCTECH presents the challenges of air cargo screening




Register now for the ICAO Global Aviation Security Symposium held in collaboration with Airports Council International (ACI). The event will take place from 12-14 September at ICAO Headquarters in Montréal, Canada. It will bring together AVSEC professionals from around the globe to enhance the mind-set towards aviation security. It will also encourage international cooperation and collaboration to address the threat posed by terrorists targeting civil aviation by reinforcing, strengthening and promoting the international framework of aviation security standards.


Watch Daniel Goh, Assistant President of NUCTECH, present on the challenges of air cargo screening:



Sky Talks aims to stimulate discussions and grow the aviation community by sharing knowledge, resources and ideas.

During the A39 Assembly, ICAO embarked on a new initiative which is meant to help us bring our hosted workshops to a broader audience throughout the year. The A39 workshops launched as Sky Talks, a dynamic video experience that shares the knowledge of authoritative presenters and knowledgeable industry professionals. The format included 30-minute presentations in front of a live conference audience. The taped presentations are being edited and will be released to the public through this blog, and our associated social media platforms, reaching hundreds of thousands of aviation professionals online.


NOTE: If you are running Ad Blocking Software on your web browser you will not be able to view Sky Talks videos.



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General Interest

Universities and aviation: how are they linked?

In the modern era, universities are considered institutions of higher learning where research and teaching are conducted, and degrees are awarded. Though there are some 17,000 universities around the world of varying sizes and quality, it is thought that the first one, the University of Bologna in Italy, was established in 1088. The word “university” comes from the Latin word Universitas which, as an abbreviation of the term universitas magistrorum et scholarium, translates to a “community of teachers and scholars”.

Traditionally, universities are “self-accrediting” and promote “academic freedom”. This allows for academic staff to research and write on whatever they wish to research.  They often have their own act of parliament (or other law making institution), which gives them the level of autonomy to teach the courses they choose, undertake the research they wish, and to award the degrees they choose. Governments have begun developing national quality systems that call for universities to comply with certain quality standards.

There are many university ranking schemes that publish rankings lists. These lists have become very important to universities since they affect their ability to attract both domestic and international students, and their ability to develop partnerships with high quality organizations. In fact, universities have changed specific behaviours to improve their rankings.  While many consider the ranking schemes too simplistic to reflect the quality of the institutions, they do in fact assess many things that are important to universities. Though ranking schemes list universities in numerical order, there is very little difference in quality in the first 1000, and a solid education may be received at any of these institutions.


What role do universities play in the aviation industry?

Aeronautical engineering has been taught at universities for many years, covering areas of teaching and research that include avionics, materials, and propulsion systems, among others. These  are not the engineers/mechanics who undertake the physical day-to-day work on aircraft. Instead they are involved in design of aircraft and aircraft components who oversee the manufacture and maintenance of aircraft.

More recently aviation management, airport management, pilots, air traffic controllers, and in certain areas, cabin crew programmes, are being offered at a university level. Some universities are now also offering diplomas (which are at a lower level than a bachelor degree) in areas like aircraft maintenance.

Research is the other major component of a university and today many (but not all) universities are engaging with the wider aviation industry to research various aspects of the industry, from safety-related activities to economics and education and training. Aviation-related research is still under development in many areas and will mature over time.

What is a Bachelor Degree?

While the answer to this varies around the world, a bachelor’s degree will take three to four years, depending on the country and area of study. These variations often confuse people and raise the questions of output quality and length of the degree. How can a three-year degree from one State be the same as a four-year one from another?

The answer lies in the various philosophies of the high schools the students attended before university. Some States have high schools with an additional year of schooling, so that a more specialized education might only require three years of university education. Others provide a broader, but shallower education and require four years to develop the same quality of bachelor degree output.

Generic degrees with no professional links are more easily accepted globally. An American university will readily accept a three-year Bachelor of Science degree from Australia as equal to their own 4-year Bachelor of Science degree, and in jobs that simply require a “graduate”, most degrees will be acceptable.

This does, however, get complicated when we move into the “Professional” areas since professional degrees are not always recognized internationally. Lawyers and dentists face difficulties when working in States other than those they studied in.

What is an Associate Degree?

Some universities (and many colleges or training institutes) offer a two-year programme called an associate degree. These are generally oriented towards technical qualifications but can also be a component of a full bachelor degree.  Qualifications are also often offered through colleges or institutes of higher education rather than a university.  They also come with various names but at the same educational level (i.e., an advanced diploma or higher diploma can be the same thing as an associate degree).

What is a Master’s Degree?

Most master’s degrees will be two years in length and require the student to already hold a bachelor degree (or sometimes equivalent work experience). This is considered a graduate or postgraduate qualification depending on the nomenclature used by the country of education.  Some masters’ degrees can be completed in 18 months if the bachelor degree held is in a similar area.  For example, if a student has a Bachelor of Aviation Management, he will be able to complete his Master of Aviation Management in 18 months, though again, this depends on the State.  While the bachelor’s degree is usually a workforce entry qualification, the master’s degree is aimed at increased depth of learning in an area, and is often considered to be required for a management position.

What is a PhD?

While some States and some universities offer what is known as a Professional Doctorate, the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the highest level of Academic achievement. Some PhD programmes will contain some formal courses, while others will be purely research project based.  The outcome is to produce a graduate who is a qualified and capable researcher, able to undertake research projects to add to the world body of knowledge.   This qualification will take between three to five years, full time.  The timeframe can be flexible since this is cutting edge research and things often go wrong in research projects.



What is a university professor, what do they do and how do you become one?


Around the world, permanent educators of university students have different titles and carry out different tasks: academics, professors, university teachers. A person who works in a university may sometimes hold a job that is considered a university professor, but their rank is not a professor. This can be very confusing – academic rankings vary in different States and the number of ranks also differ:


  • The highest rank in a university are professors, full professors or tenured professors (their title is professor). To equate this to industry, the professor is like the captain in an airline. The  title is linked to a job – and once you leave the position, you can no longer use the title. For a doctoral qualification, once you’ve earned the title of doctor, you never lose it.
  • The next rank down the list are the “Associate Professor” who is like a first officer, and then the assistant professor, who is like a second officer. Some States have a longer list of positions who begin as associate lecturers, lecturers, senior lecturers, associate professors and professors.
  • The entry level position, no matter what the title is, will at minimum require a master’s degree, and most often these days, it will require a PhD. There will be specific requirements promulgated by the university for promotion.
  • An academic is required to do research and to engage in service to the university, profession or external community. In many universities, a standard academic will spend 40% of their time in teaching related activity, 40% of their time in a research-related activity and 20% of their time in a service related activity. To be promoted, a staff member would need to become more highly accomplished in these areas and more recognised in their area of expertise. This can be accomplished through numbers and quality of research or scholarly peer reviewed papers, receiving large competitive research grants, having high quality teaching evaluations and holding high level service positions within the university or area of expertise.


What does all this mean for aviation?

University engagement in aviation means that there are increasing numbers of people available to engage in high quality industry driven research and highly qualified people to work on committees and other industry activity. Many of these academics are, or have been, industry professionals before becoming academics, thus the universities offer a means to continually improving the way that the industry does its business.

The world of universities is complex and highly nationally or regionally based, and while this article cannot cover all the permutations of university life, it does give a taste of the system and its complexities.


About the author


Dr. Paul Bates is the Head of Aviation at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia.  He has been leading university aviation programmes for over 20 years, and through online programmes, he has alumni in every corner of the globe.  He currently supervises one of the largest aviation safety research groups in the world with 10 Doctoral candidates currently studying various aspects of aviation safety.  A fellow of The Royal Aeronautical Society, Dr. Bates has developed programmes that deliver higher quality outcomes for students and the industry. More than 30% of the pilots in one of Australia’s major airlines graduates of his programmes.


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World Health Day 2017: The priority placed on supporting mental health in aviation

On 24 March 2015, the pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525 deliberately steered the aircraft into a mountain side in the French Alps. This tragedy raised many questions, generated numerous discussions worldwide, and drew a very bright spotlight onto the importance of managing mental health in aviation.

Seventh April is celebrated each year as World Health Day, commemorating the anniversary of the foundation of the World Health Organization (WHO) and serving as an opportunity to raise worldwide awareness on significant global health concerns. In 2017, World Health Day is seeking to draw global attention to the challenges of depression, a common illness affecting an estimated 350 million people people worldwide.

ICAO’s role

As a United Nations agency, ICAO sets out standards and recommended practices for global civil aviation, with strategic priorities focused today on aviation safety, security and facilitation, capacity and efficiency, and air transport economic and environmental performance.

We also work with the agencies such as the WHO to raise awareness and implement strategies to better prevent and treat mental health conditions in aviation personnel, while also helping to reduce in general the stigma associated with mental health conditions. Related considerations include how this stigma or a specific mental health condition can affect a pilot’s career, ranging from temporary grounding to the loss of licences and incomes.

To this effect, ICAO has provided guidance to aviation authorities regarding the evaluation and certification of pilots with certain types of mental health conditions, provided that specified requirements are met and that medical certification is not considered to pose a safety risk to aviation operations.

The Germanwings accident also underlined the importance of the delicate balance between patient confidentiality, the right to earn a living, and public safety, all of which serve as very complex and interrelated concerns for medical and civil aviation authorities.

Achieving the objective

Last October, European Member States presented two working papers during the 39th Session of the ICAO Assembly on “Aviation medicine, Psychiatric and Psychological aspects” and “European initiatives following the Germanwings Flight 9525 Accident”. The ICAO Secretariat was requested to review the current flight crew mental health framework and to adopt, where relevant, adequate risk mitigation measures, including the development of new requirements, or the revision of existing ones. These documents can be accessed here and here.

ICAO has adopted a multidisciplinary approach in order to address this complicated issue through collaboration with mental health specialists, the WHO, international organizations, Member States and the industry. This work includes includes raising awareness, emphasizing the importance of aviation stakeholder education, and the implementation of pilot and aviation medical examiner support programmes.

A review of the flight crew mental health framework will be conducted by the ICAO Medical Provisions Study Group (MPSG), which consists of medical professionals, industry groups and State representatives.  Its efforts will cover multiple areas, including an analysis of accidents and incidents that could be linked to mental health conditions, evaluating the feasibility and practical application of psychological and psychiatric assessments, and eventually the appropriate updating of ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices and the associated guidance material.

By raising awareness, learning from experiences and implementing appropriate countermeasures, ICAO assists the WHO and its Member States in their efforts to recognize, prevent, detect and treat mental health conditions, reduce the associated stigma, and sustain international civil aviation operations in a safe, secure and efficient manner.

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