Congress directs GAO to examine FAA Workforce and Training
Aviation Safety instituted changes in Flight Standards and Aircraft Cert
AVS/AFX/AIR PEOPLE transition plans good but GAO says more
The FAA’s Aviation Safety Organization (AVS) has for a number of years consciously planned for its future. Recognizing its manpower limitations (among other factors), the senior management of Flight Standards (AFX) redesigned the job tasks from (i) reading records and punishing past acts to (ii) collecting massive amounts of disparate data, analyzing them and designing proactive solutions. Similarly, the Aircraft Certification Offices (AIR) was conscious of the enormous transformation of the technologies that they must assess and adopted a new approach to certification from prescriptive to performance.
To their credit, AVS, AFX and AIR acknowledged that these new safety regulation tactics required different skill sets as opposed to past missions. Both AFX and AIR reorganized to prepare for this transition. Flight Standards created an Office of Foundational Business (AFB); the Certification equivalent is an Organizational Performance Division (AIR-300). Anticipating such impacts on PEOPLE is commendable, resulted from years of planning, but still could be improved—as suggested by the below Government Accountability Office report.
Congress in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included a requirement that the GAO report on the workforce and training needs of Aviation Safety. Specifically, the Congress wanted to know the extent to which AVS (1) assesses competency gaps in its inspector and engineer workforces and (2) ensures its training program provides these workforces with needed competencies.
There is always a certain amount of skepticism when Congress asks any “watchdog” to review any program/issue. Why, because the institutional imperative is to “find fault”; no problem, no need for an oversight organization. Forty pages of thoughtful analyses, based on extensive internal and external consultation, made some useful fact finding and recommendations which can be summarized as follows:
- The Office of Aviation Safety Does Not Perform Recurring Organization Wide Competency Gap Assessments
- The Office of Aviation Safety Takes Steps to Train Inspectors and Engineers on Needed Skills but Does Not Assess Its Training Curricula on a Recurring Basis
a. Provides Introductory, Recurrent, and On-the-Job Training
i. Flight Standards requires that recently hired inspectors receive on average about 168 hours of web-based training and about 448 hours of classroom training within their first 12 months.
ii. Aircraft Certification requires that new inspectors and engineers complete about 100 hours of initial introductory training courses within their first 24 months as well as mandatory and position-essential courses.
III. Flight Standards requires employees to complete recurrent training courses every 3 to 5 years
iv. Aircraft Certification officials stated that recurrent training courses are required only for its flight-test pilot engineer workforce
v. Flight Standards records trainees’ OJT plan, progress, and completion in an electronic database called the Program Tracking and Reporting Subsystem.
vi. Aircraft Certification does not have an OJT program that is required for all engineers and inspectors, although officials stated that local managers may provide OJT informally
b. Develops Training Courses in Response to New Regulations and Technologies
i. Flight Standards and Aircraft Certification officials told us that they create new training courses for inspectors and engineers when managers identify a skill or knowledge gap that results from, for example, new regulations or technologies
3. The Office of Aviation Safety Evaluates Individual Training Courses but Does Not Assess Curricula on a Recurring Basis
4. The Office of Aviation Uses Hiring Tools to Recruit and Hire Inspectors and Engineers
Finally, the GAO proffered two sensible recommendations:
- The Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety should assess organization-wide gaps in identified critical competencies for the Office of Aviation Safety’s inspector and engineer workforces on a recurring basis.
- The Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety should assess training curricula for the Office of Aviation Safety’s inspector and engineer workforces on a recurring basis to ensure that training courses as a whole align with critical competencies needed to address agency mission and goals.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is recommending the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Office of Aviation Safety (AVS) identify organization-wide competency gaps and assess training curricula on a recurring basis within its inspector and engineer workforces, according to a Nov. 9 report. The recommendations come after the agency found an increasing lack of institutional knowledge and assessments of training curricula.
According to GAO, between 52 to 62 percent of FAA inspectors and engineers will be retirement eligible by fiscal year 2025. It also found that the FAA has changed how it conducts safety oversight work requiring highly technical skills in aerospace technology like risk management and data analysis and that inspectors and engineers do not get adequate training on new technologies, like unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
“As more inspectors and engineers in FAA’s Office of Aviation Safety retire and the aviation industry implements new technologies, the office must ensure its inspectors and engineers have the competencies necessary to respond to these changes,” the report states. “The Office of Aviation Safety has taken positive steps to identify the critical competencies that its inspector and engineer workforces need to address safety oversight activities. However, without conducting recurring, organization-wide assessments of any gaps that exist in these competencies for the inspector and engineer workforces, the Office of Aviation Safety is limited in its ability to efficiently target workforce strategies such as hiring and training.”
While the AVS has begun addressing critical competencies, it has done this at an office level, not an organization level which has prevented the FAA from implementing strategies for addressing organization-wide gaps.
“For example, without knowing the extent to which its inspector and engineer workforces have gaps in advanced data analytics, the Office of Aviation Safety may not know the extent to which it should hire or train employees with this skill set. Furthermore, Flight Standards and Aircraft Certification may not be able to effectively leverage the existing competencies that its inspector and engineer workforces have to conduct the office’s safety oversight mission,” the report states.
The report notes that employees receive introductory, recurrent, and on-the-job training, however, the AVS does not regularly assess its training curricula.
The latest set of recommendations on hiring practices outlined by GAO comes as the agency has already been discussing plans to hire more software and systems engineers, as well as other technological subject matter experts to improve the way it certifies increasingly complex avionics and other systems in the future, according to a June Senate hearing featuring FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson.
FAA’s 2021 budget request includes $10 million assigned to adding 50 new technical employees, the first phase of an increased hiring effort for such positions.
“Without assessing the curriculum as a whole on a recurring basis, the Office of Aviation Safety does not have complete information on whether critical competencies are being sufficiently emphasized,” the report states. “For example, without recurring curricula assessments, the Office of Aviation Safety may not know whether training courses across training specialties similarly address oversight activities related to new technologies.”
As the FAA hires more employees, the training process will become even more important to make sure critical competencies within the agency are aligned, according to the report. By assessing the training curricula regularly, the agency can make sure it will achieve its mission and goals.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) agreed with GAO’s assessment and will respond to recommendations 180 days after the report’s issuance, Keith Washington, deputy assistant secretary for administration at the DOT, said in an Oct. 20 letter attached to the report.
 FAA: he Dallas/Ft. Worth Flight Standards and Aircraft Certification program offices, including a Flight Standards district office, a certificate management office, a manufacturing inspection district office; Industry: Aeronautical Repair Station Association, the Aerospace Industries Association, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Airlines for America, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and the National Business Aviation Association: FAA labor groups: National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists.
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