The quality of being adequately or well qualified physically and intellectually to accomplish assigned responsibilities.

Competency is taken to mean possession of the required level of knowledge, skills, experience and where required, proficiency in English, to permit the safe and efficient provision of aviation services.


The purpose of this article is not to describe the generic competency and personnel licensing requirements and schemes, which the personnel of an aviation operator/service provider must comply with, but to clarify better the role and position of competency within the generic safety management framework.

The competence of the personnel for the assigned tasks, and where applicable their satisfaction of medical requirements, are fundamental elements of safety achievement, and therefore of safety management in the provision of aviation services. The high importance and priority of competency in aviation is reflected in harmonised safety regulatory requirements adopted at all levels: global - through the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) provisions on personnel licensing; regional - through dedicated acts (e.g. European directives, EUROCONTROL ESARR 5); and national - through the appropriate provisions in the aviation legislation.

Historically, competency requirements have first been established for operational personnel (pilots, aircraft maintenance engineers, air traffic controllers) and then gradually extended to other categories of personnel assigned safety related tasks. In general, staff responsible for safety critical tasks are required to comply with detailed, rather prescriptive, licensing requirements and schemes. Other personnel, involved in less safety critical tasks may be subject to less demanding certification requirements, for example the technical and engineering personnel in air traffic management.

According to ICAO Doc. 9859 - Safety Management Manual, line managers should be accountable for ensuring the continuing competence of the personnel in safety-related positions within their areas of responsibility. This also includes the assurance that any recurrent training requirements are met. In addition, procedures must be in place to review and to evaluate the adequacy of training provided to staff on safety-related duties and to verify their competence.

Besides the generic aspects of competency relating to operational safety, there are competency requirements related to safety management. The latter are fundamental for the correct and effective operation of the organisation’s safety management system (SMS). The operators/service providers need to:

  • Specify the competency requirements for the established safety management roles, for example incident investigators, safety data analysts, etc.
  • Ensure that staff assigned safety management roles are appropriately trained and skilled to fulfil their responsibilities. Large organisations may need to develop and maintain a safety training programme to meet the knowledge and skill requirements for the operation of an effective SMS. In other words, the organisation should ensure that its employees are trained and experienced to the extent sufficient to guarantee that the SMS functions as intended.

Competency Requirements

As the competency requirements and safety responsibilities and accountabilities need to be defined for all safety-related positions throughout the organisation, the operators/service providers must ensure that:

  • The competency requirements, and where appropriate, licensing requirements for those positions are documented;
  • The competency requirements are specified in the recruitment description and job responsibilities;
  • The individuals in the positions identified meet the competency requirements;
  • The competency is enhanced through internal or external training.

Competency is closely interrelated with other important aspects of safety management. Building and maintaining staff competence is an essential part of the safety planning process in the organisation. Often, recommendations for safety improvement are aimed for provision of dedicated training and/or implementation of specific competency requirements.

The active dissemination of key safety messages throughout the organisation also facilitates staff competence enhancement. Although less formal than training programmes, sharing lessons learned (for example through staff briefings, safety publications, message boards or internal electronic forums, etc.) contributes to improved staff knowledge and experience.

The positive safety culture is also a powerful driver for continuous staff competence improvement. It underpins the personnel self-motivation and pursuit of increased knowledge and skills.

Further reading




Portal:Safety Management


SKYbrary Partners:

Safety knowledge contributed by: