Any company’s most important asset is its people, and NATS is no exception. People are our lynchpin in the safe and efficient management of our increasingly busy skies and advances in technological developments across the air traffic management (ATM) industry.

Globally we’ve been working on how to optimise human performance to keep this critical 24/7 operation running smoothly and safely. In May last year, I wrote a blog about a forthcoming Standard of Excellence for Human Performance that the industry has been producing on behalf of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO).

This international standard has now been completed and can be found on the Eurocontrol Skybrary website. We hope it will result in major improvements to human performance in an industry where people create safety and where we strongly rely on their peak performance every day.

There is always room for improvement where human performance is concerned. For this to happen, there are a number of questions that Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) around the world have been asking and which need to be addressed:  Which elements of human performance should they focus on? In which areas are they already doing well? Where would investments for improvement help business performance? What are the first steps they need to take?

Now, for the first time, there is a way for ANSPs to answer these questions by using the Standard of Excellence to determine their current level of human performance and to establish a baseline for improvements. This will help them to better manage operational safety risks and to improve efficiency and resilience.

Twelve key elements of human performance have been identified and are shown below. While the focus of an ANSP is often on the frontline controllers, other operational staff such as supervisors and air traffic engineers shouldn’t be forgotten.

The 12 Elements of Human Performance (image from Eurocontrol)

The 12 Elements of Human Performance (image from Eurocontrol)

For each of these 12 elements, five levels of maturity are identified ranging from Level 1 Initiating (meeting the minimum regulatory requirements) up to Level 5 Continuous Improvement (which can be considered to be world class).

So far, 14 ANSPs of different sizes from around the world have assessed themselves against the standard to identify their current level of human performance. While there are differences between ANSPs, training of operational staff is seen as a consistent strength while people leadership in the operations room is seen as an area for improvement.

At NATS we’re using our own assessment to determine the priorities during 2016 for improvements to our human performance. These include a better understanding of the impact of change on our operational staff and how to minimise the impacts, and further developing the leadership skills of key people in the operations room.

CANSO’s next step is to produce guidance material to sit alongside the Standard of Excellence. This will help ANSPs identify what they should have in place to achieve a particular level of maturity for each element of human performance. This is planned to be available by the end of 2016 and will help to ensure consistency of assessment.

There has already been considerable interest in the Standard of Excellence from organisations outside air traffic management (ATM) in the transport, medical and nuclear industries.

It would be fantastic to see more ANSPs use it so that the importance of having excellent human performance is recognised and actions to improve human performance are put in place. This will help us to maintain ATM as an ultra-safe industry and ensure that people in ATM continue to be the pace-setters in creating a wider global safety culture.


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Excellent work! As we are moving towards a SES and are developing systems to be used across countries, there is a clear need for human performance to be standardised. A much needed document for the whole SES Programme!


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