Carolina López-Malla is Aeronautical Manager and began her career in operations management at airline companies, where she confirmed her vocation for crew training. She came to SENASA first to the Users Service Department and then to the Flight Standards Unit, where she continued to develop her work in the field of pilot training. Since 2014 Carolina López-Malla has been working as SENASA’s Personnel Coordinator of the Aeronautical Staff Licensing Area, specifically in the Professional Flight Crew Licensing Department; she is member of the Workers' Committee since 2018 and member of SENtir, SENASA's women's network.
SENASA has extensive experience in Aeronautical Staff Licensing. What does this activity involve and what are the implications for the aeronautical sector?
SENASA has been supporting the aeronautical authority in the field of Flight Crew Licensing since it was a competence of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC), adapting to support the Spanish Aviation Safety Agency (AESA) since its creation. As SENASA staff in the Aeronautical Staff Licensing Area we support AESA, we have contributed to the progress of regulatory development starting from the evolution of national regulations to the JAR (Joint Aviation Requirements), reaching the current Part FCL (Flight Crews Licenses) of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the creation of Part MED and the appearance of figures such as the DTO or the language proficiency assessment centres.
In the Aeronautical Staff Licensing Area, SENASA is present in all the services that make up and shape the figures of men and women pilots and cabin crew, accompanying them throughout the process of developing their profession: this is where they start, where they are trained to grow and evolve, and where they manage and maintain their competencies.
The Aeronautical Staff Licensing Area is also responsible for the General Aviation Services, Aeronautical Training Coordination and Type Rating Training department, which approves the teaching schools (ATO and DTO) and the courses necessary for pilots to obtain their first licence (whether for aeroplane, helicopter, ULM, glider or balloon) and, subsequently, the class and type ratings, instructor certificates and extensions of privileges (specific training by aircraft model) contained therein.
Other services also depend on this area, such as the Language Competency Service, Flight Attendants (TCP), Dangerous Goods (MM.PP.). This is where the language proficiency assessment centres are authorised, responsible for checking the level of English and/or Spanish of pilots and air traffic controllers, a key factor in communication between aviation professionals; the initial training centres for cabin crew (TCP), which are assessed and approved to provide the teaching required for aspiring flight attendants. In general, and due to a lack of knowledge, it is often thought that only the technical crew is a key part of operations, and nothing could be further from the truth, which is why we must not forget the importance of the figure of the TCP and their training.
In addition, in this same service and with regard to Dangerous Goods, the approval and continuous monitoring of the instruction programmes for the safe transport of dangerous goods provided by the different employers involved in air transport, with the exception of air operators, is carried out.
In the licensing issuing process, what services does SENASA provide to aviation professionals?
SENASA collaborates with AESA in the issuance of licences, ratings, and some certificates through the General Aviation Licensing department (Flight Crew certificates, sport aviation licences and private pilot licences for both aeroplanes and helicopters) and Professional Flight Crew Licences. For example, in the day-to-day Professional Flight Crew Licensing Department we manage the licences of pilots who obtain them for professional purposes, i.e. not for personal use. We witness the complete process of pilots' professional development: we see them "born" from the age of 18 when they obtain their licence; we follow their professional "growth" when they change aircraft model and/or company; as well as when they reach their highest rating, the ATPL licence. In many cases, more than they could imagine, we know them by name and family name.
On the other hand, the Aeronautical Medicine Area verifies and ensures that the essential medical requirements for pilots, cabin crew and air traffic controllers are maintained. This same division also audits the work of the authorised Air Medical Examiners and the accredited Aeronautical Medical Centres.
The Operational Engineering Department evaluates simulation devices, which are extremely important in the training of candidates, as they make possible the practice of manoeuvres that, for safety reasons, should not be performed in aircraft.
On the other hand, the Examinations Department is where the first theoretical exams are graded, which since 2012 have been processed by computer at SENASA through a digital platform. It is in this same service where pilots manage authorisations such as the ATPL test, the verification of the prerequisites to be able to take it and where sufficiently experienced pilots obtain and maintain certificates that entitle them to examine other pilots or aspiring pilots.
There is also a Help Desk Service, which handles the queries received from interested parties, which are answered or referred to the corresponding specific service. At present, the service is provided both by telephone and by e-mail.
In order to be able to tackle such a diversity of tasks, what is SENASA's professional team like?
SENASA's team that provides services at the Aeronautical Staff Licensing Area includes an impressive number of technical experts with very diverse professional profiles. We have a multidisciplinary team of specialists: aeronautical engineers, aeroplane, helicopter, ULM, balloon and glider pilots, doctors, philologists, cabin crew, Dangerous Goods experts, aeronautical managers and, of course, administrative staff. All of them make possible to carry out all the tasks entrusted by AESA to fulfil the commissioning.
At SENASA we are fortunate to have a great professional team, which works very well together, with compact working groups backed by years of experience and knowledge.
It is important to highlight the profile of the administrative staff because in the licensing environment, it is not a mere support or generic profile. The people working within this division have specific qualifications, whether they are technical or support staff, built up over years of experience, which is not easily replaceable or measurable.
What would be the big challenge ahead for the Aeronautical Staff Licensing Area?
There are more and more regulations, more extensive, covering more fields of knowledge. Qualification and training requirements are also increasing, which pushes EASA, the organisation that audits us, to publish constant changes to which we must adapt in order to maintain quality standards. The fact that we have a great team, very well prepared and in total coordination, undoubtedly contributes and allows us to continue developing our work with excellent results. Our daily work is just like Evidence Based Training, where we must train the competencies on a daily basis to see where we fail, where we need to improve and where we are strongest.
The continuous changes in regulations push us to be constantly up to date. In the last few years we have seen changes with the introduction of, among many others, Upset Recovery Training (UPRT) following the Air France accident in 2009; Performance Based Navigation (PBN), Evidence Based Training (EBT), the regulation with more precise requirements for accrediting the level of language proficiency and its endorsement on the licence, the method of assessment by authorised assessment centres and the modifications to the Dangerous Goods training centres which, as of January 1st, 2023, changes to competency-based training and assessment, having to develop employer-specific programmes and to achieve compliance with minimum requirements for the qualification of instructor/assessor attached to airborne dangerous goods training programmes.
Another of the challenges we face is to achieve the issuance of licences in electronic format, something that we had already seen on the horizon, but COVID-19 has definitely pushed us towards it. This, which would greatly facilitate crew management, is an item on which the Licensing Division collaborated with EASA in 2019 and which, today, has an increasingly closer prospect as it is already being worked on with ICAO (the International Civil Aviation Organisation). It should be noted that Spain was the first EASA member state to issue licences and certificates signed and submitted electronically. This is proving to be of immense benefit: the agility and promptness of our deliveries are unstoppable.