ACI at ICAO’s A41: Ensuring Aviation Remains Attractive to Current and Future Generations

Thomas Romig by Thomas Romig | Aug 24, 2022

As the aviation industry moves closer to the 41st ICAO Assembly (A41), ACI will be sharing its key advocacy positions that will be presented in the form of Working Papers from 27 September–7 October 2022 to 193 Member States (governments) and a large number of international organizations. The ICAO Assembly establishes its worldwide policy for the upcoming triennium and outcomes will guide other bodies of ICAO and its Member States’ future work in civil aviation. ACI has been working diligently to prepare its advocacy positions and engagement strategy to represent its members’ needs at a crucial junction in time and under the theme: #All4one Aviation Ecosystem.

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The aviation ecosystem’s workforce

The aviation ecosystem is strongly reliant on the availability of a large workforce of well trained and competent professionals in adequate numbers to cater to the diverse roles found across the sector. This diverse workforce ensures the delivery of a multitude of services required to make the aviation system function on a day-to-day basis across all regions of the world. The availability of this workforce is critical to ensuring that the now increasing demand in aircraft movements, passenger and cargo operations can be accommodated.

On a global level, according to the Air Transport Action Group Aviation: Benefits Beyond Borders 2020 report, aviation accounts directly for 11.3 million jobs, many of which have a direct impact on ensuring safe and efficient operations across the aviation ecosystem. The aviation system supports indirectly over 18 million other jobs through the air transport industry’s purchase of goods and services.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the associated drop in traffic, had an unprecedented impact on the aviation ecosystem’s workforce, exacerbating previous systemic challenges, with impacts such as large numbers of personnel being made redundant, being put on long-term furlough or asked to take early retirement schemes. This has created a gap in knowledge through the loss of experienced personnel, a leakage of skilled labour to other industries and most recently, a significant challenge in recruitment as demand comes back into the aviation system. These challenges are placing the effective industry recovery at risk, with events such as air operators having to cancel flights or long delays being generated at passenger touchpoints in airports. These are adding stress to the transport process at a time when it is important to restore public confidence in aviation.

The instability in employment in aviation generated by unpredictable traffic patterns due to the wide variety of health measures and travel restrictions implemented by Member States has equally had a significant impact on aviation’s attractiveness as an employer. In addition, the ongoing debate around the environmental sustainability of the aviation system has further impacted the decision not to choose aviation as a career path, particularly for the next generation of professionals.

A diverse and professional labour pool

Many of the core aviation jobs are highly skilled professional roles that require significant amounts of investments to train candidates and bring them up to the required levels of skill and competence. These tend to be well-paid and highly sought-after roles but are not accessible to all individuals. There is however a significant portion of the aviation ecosystem’s jobs that require lower levels of training and qualifications and may tend to have less job security and lower levels of remuneration, but that are equally as important for the industry. These jobs, such as check-in and gate agents, baggage handlers, ground operations agents, airfield maintenance, and many more found across the different sectors of activity, need to have equivalent terms and conditions to similar jobs in other sectors, and be recognized and understood for the critical support they provide to aviation as a whole.

Aviation plays a critical role in the sustainable development of communities and the connectivity of people, which remains of utmost importance for the economic, social, and territorial cohesion of Member States and their populations. To preserve this connectivity and important role within the economic fibre of nations and communities, the aviation industry has to come together and rethink the existing approaches that are leveraged to recruit, motivate, train, upskill and retain its workforce.  

Long-term and continuing labour shortages have been and may continue to affect some sectors. Industry, workers and their organizations, Member State authorities and educational or training institutions should co-operate in developing the training systems needed to help safeguard employment security in civil aviation. Appropriate training systems and facilities are of great importance in order to provide the recurrent training required for personnel to maintain their levels of competence, the transitional training necessary to enable them to qualify on new equipment, or procedures and the training required for future redeployment.

The accelerated rate of innovation, introduction of new technologies and automation is another challenge the industry will have to face. Partnerships with universities or technical institutes can allow for and support the needed upskilling of the workforce. The establishment of aviation programs, adapted to younger age populations, such as high schools or pre-university schools, creates additional visibility for and understanding of aviation for the next generation of workers. These types of partnerships between industry and education institutions, ideally supported by State policies, will grow the visibility of and generate interest in the industry and its attractivity as a career path.

Long-term social and economic sustainability

Ensuring that economic, environmental and social sustainability becomes embedded in the core of strategic plans and future investments across the industry is critical to providing for a more attractive sector for the younger generations looking to join aviation organizations that embrace a sustainable future. Creating an attractive, diverse, and inclusive industry needs to be forefront in the agenda of States and industry stakeholders.

As the workforce’s requirements and expectations continue to evolve and aviation professionals seek opportunities across different sectors or in different States, facilitating the workforce’s global mobility is becoming a new challenge. Mutual recognition of training certificates, industry designations and validation of competencies across States, as well as accelerated security vetting processes, while maintaining high levels of safety and security oversight, will facilitate the integration of workers into new environments in a faster and more seamless manner. The development of training passports and programs allowing for recognition of training and competencies across the sector will equally accelerate the mobility and recognition of some of the lessor skilled aviation roles.

Industry mobilization

In preparation for the ICAO 41st Assembly, ACI has been instrumental in bringing together the core aviation industry associations through the development of a working paper tilted “Attracting and developing the aviation ecosystem’s workforce to ensure the industry’s long-term sustainability and resilience”. This paper has been co-signed by ACI, IATA, IFALPA, CANSO, IFATCA, TIACA as well as the International Transport Workers Federation and the United Nations International Labor Organisation.

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Through this paper, the sector’s industry and workers are signaling that swift actions are needed to ensure the recruitment and retention of sufficient and diverse personnel to meet future demand and the long-term social sustainability and attractiveness of the aviation sector for the next generation of workers. The core asks coming out of this paper are for ICAO and States to:

  • Increase cooperation between all organizations to monitor the evolving workforce situation for risks to recovery as well as catering to future demand.
  • Identify strategies and actions that can be taken to mitigate the impact, to support professional development programs, technical onboarding and communication programs for younger generations, and other initiatives that will  increase the attractivity of the aviation sector for the next generation of aviation personnel.

The paper also contains a call to enhance collaboration with Ministries of Education and Employment by identifying future skill gaps, including technical and higher education aviation programs, as part of the broader national education policies, to support collaboration between educational institutions and industry on a national and local basis to develop skills labs and other forms of aviation training institutes, and to take the necessary measures to ensure the recruitment and retention of adequate numbers of aviation workers, a prerequisite of a safe, secure, fair and socially sustainable, efficient, economically viable and environmentally sound air transport system, which effectively supports local and global economies.

ACI’s Task Force on Airport Workforce   

The current labour market is challenging aviation’s scalability not just as traffic returns, but in the longer term as operations continue to increase. The aviation ecosystem’s capacity to meet the continually increasing demand in passenger, cargo and aircraft movements will require the availability of adequate numbers of skilled and competent aviation workers filling a multitude of roles across different sectors.

To address some of the longer-term challenges that airports and the overall ecosystem is facing, ACI has put together a Task Force on Airport Workforce that is looking at the short-, medium- and long-term effects of the workforce shortage on the industry. This task force is not just looking at the current challenges and risks, but most importantly seeking to identify measures and solutions that will help airport operators and the overall community ensure a sustainable future for the aviation system. ACI will be publishing a White Paper on the subject in the autumn of 2022.  

Thomas Romig

Thomas Romig

Vice President, Safety and Operations
Thomas Romig is a graduate of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University where he obtained an Aviation Business Management degree. After four years with ACI World, Thomas took up the position of Safety Officer at Genève Aéroport where he was in charge of developing the airport Safety Office, ensuring regulatory compliance through the Aerodrome Certification process and implementing the Safety Management System. In 2020, Thomas joined ACI in Montreal as Vice President, Safety and Operations with a primary focus on the relations with ICAO, and other industry organizations, for future regulatory developments.
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