For obvious reasons, there is currently a great expectation in the aviation sector and the air travel business too, waiting any time the resumption of full operations. Having said that, I am trying to understand the general sensation among my colleagues, business partners, employees and the public. I must admit. It is not easy!
I feel that after nearly 18 months in despair, people are entangled in a web of conspiracy, doubt, and anxiety. Some people are sceptical, others are uncertain, a great number are disbelieving and many are unconvinced. Whatever the case, certainly I do appreciate everyone’s view. After what the world has gone through, it is natural now to feel perplexed.
A return to postponed or suspended activities
On the other hand, here comes my operational consciousness again. I am seriously thinking about front-line staff who return to operations after such a long time. Many aviation personnel have not worked in their roles for relatively some time. There are so many factors to consider in the current circumstances and for a return to operations after a lengthy absence. Essentially, we are talking about all functions and departments including passenger services, security, technical, administrative etc. I have reservations about activities that during the past year we either postponed or suspended for instance. Think about wildlife management, maintenance, developmental works that we now would have to resume.
The UK CAA issued appropriately a Safety Notice (No SN-2021/011) titled ‘Awareness of Skill Fade and Suggested Mitigations’, considering we are in the restart phase. For me, this is a well-calculated act, because it is based on a simple fact. If people do not work regularly, their professional skills and competence will gradually decrease. I am afraid the truthiness of such fact is unbearable within the airport and the aircraft operations outline. Returning to full operations demands also an entirely competent workforce.
Do we remember how to perform our tasks?
For me these issues generate a lot of discussion and extended conversations on how to ensure a safe restart and the industry’s recovery. Now, unlike any other time in the past, collaboration is very important. Industry stakeholders, public and private sectors, regulatory authorities and operators they all must come together and adopt a harmonized approach. Looking at the issue from my angle, with a background dipped in safety, I am equally apprehensive about employee confidence levels.
Employers and managers have to consider that staff returning to full time operations after long absence, may lack self-assurance. The key questions should revolve around employee’s task repetition, frequency and sequence. For example, does staff remember how to carry out certain tasks? Can they recall a full technical process from A to B after long-term absenteeism? Do employees feel anxious coming back to the operation?
Employers must help staff on their return to work
By any means, I would not dare to suggest here any mitigation or solutions. It is better for each organization to deal with the situation according to how they deem suitable to them. Although, I do believe that engaging with employees and having discussions with them can be very helpful.
However, air transport is a complex and safety orientated setting. Identifying hazards and reducing risks in advance is the most sensible tactic. Consequently, considering the circumstances, we must reassess critically the staff competence and deal with returning to work proactively. Otherwise, I suspect that we may experience widely across the industry a thread of safety related incidents. I maintain that operators, businesses, companies should preventively prepare to deal with issues associated with a return to full operation. Based on my experience, one recommendation I would offer. Refresher courses on employee skills and competencies, can work very well in reinforcing staff confidence. Refresher training can help to motivate staff and prevents complacency.
Further Reading: Joint ICAO & UK CAA Preparation for Restarting Operations
AIRPORT BUREAU can help your staff to regain operational confidence. We can apply intervening programs, refresher training sessions and revitalizing courses to meet your team’s specific requirements. Please contact me for a free and open discussion on how we can support you to close operational knowledge gaps for your workforce: firstname.lastname@example.org