A U.S. government watchdog is recommending that the FAA’s Office of Aviation Safety (AVS) conduct continual organization-wide evaluations for potential gaps in the competency of its inspector and engineering workforce, as well as for adequacy of its training curriculum. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed the agency’s workforce competency and training approaches under a directive from the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.
That directive stemmed from concerns that the FAA’s technical knowledge could be strained in the face of a large number of potential retirements on the horizon coupled with the rapid introduction of new technologies. In the face of this, GAO said in a report to Congress, “FAA must ensure that safety inspectors and engineers possess skills needed for effective oversight as well as for a variety of highly technical skills in aerospace technology.”
GAO noted that by Fiscal Year 2025, between 52 and 62 percent of the AVS will be eligible to retire. This comes as a number of new technologies are emerging, such as those used in unmanned aircraft systems, and require a new level of expertise.
AVS officials have begun to identify critical competencies—including skills, knowledge, abilities, and behaviors—necessary to oversee the aviation industry, GAO acknowledged. But the organization does not assess organization-wide workforce competency gaps on a recurring basis, it said.
For example, AVS identified data analytics, systems thinking, and risk-based decision-making as necessary competencies for engineers to perform safety oversight, GAO said. But AVS officials told the watchdog that managers across the country individually assess whether their employees have the necessary skills. “This approach does not provide AVS an organization-wide view of competency gaps,” GAO contended. “Without information on the extent to which its inspectors and engineers possess critical competencies, AVS is limited in its ability to implement appropriate strategies for addressing organization-wide gaps in critical skills such as data analytics.”
Similarly, while AVS trains inspectors and engineers on skills required for their safety work, the organization has not assessed the training curricula on a recurring basis. “AVS has policies for routinely evaluating individual training courses and incorporating improvements. However, it does not assess on a recurring basis whether the training curricula as a whole adequately provide employees with needed competencies.”
Without such assessments, GAO added, AVS does not have the ability to determine whether there are gaps in training, particularly with the onset of new technologies.