CISM, or critical incident stress management, is being discussed today and tomorrow in Madrid at a meeting of great international importance organised by ENAIRE and EUROCONTROL

The hybrid-format conference is being attended by professionals from Australia, Austria, the United States, Ireland, Greece, Poland, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Spain

Ángel Luis Arias, ENAIRE’s CEO, says that “it is people who create safety in a highly complex and changing environment”

ENAIRE is holding a major international event in Madrid today and tomorrow on critical incident stress management (CISM) with representatives from EUROCONTROL, the European organisation for air navigation safety, ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and experts from Australia, Austria, the United States, Qatar, Ireland, Greece, Poland, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Spain.

Ángel Luis Arias, ENAIRE’s CEO, opened the first day by noting that “air traffic management is a highly complex technical system that operates in a changing environment. Keeping the system safe, efficient and effective requires adaptation and flexibility. The people who control aircraft, and those who design and maintain the equipment, are the ones who create safety”.

ENAIRE has worked very hard to consolidate its CISM programme, establishing very clear standards defined by EUROCONTROL and the Foundation for Stress from Critical Incidents, which include updated manuals and protocols, and very rigorous training for all our peers. We have a fantastic team of peers, all of whom are very committed to helping their colleagues whenever necessary. Thank you very much for your volunteer work”.

Guadalupe Cortés, co-chair of the EUROCONTROL subgroup on Human Factors in Safety and responsible for ENAIRE’s CISM programme, highlighted the importance of human resilience in relation to stress management, specifically in the field of air traffic control. Resilience allows humans to properly adapt to adverse situations with a very high component of stress, and is a quality that can be trained throughout life.

In general, members of specific professional groups, such as emergency services, pilots and air traffic controllers, are better prepared to handle unusual situations due to their experience and training. However, there are events that go beyond professional experience that can be potentially traumatic, and which are defined as critical incidents.

A critical incident is any situation, whether professional or personal, that happens suddenly or unexpectedly and that has the potential to create highly stressful reactions that can manifest themselves in a wide variety of ways, and that affects professionals over the course of their work in the control room. In short, they are normal reactions to unusual events.

ENAIRE’s CISM programme is a short-term assistance process whose aim is to foster natural resilience in order to return to normal operation, and it is structured using a peer model. A peer is a volunteer practising air traffic controller who is selected and trained to assist any colleague who requires their help, in a completely confidential manner. The peer team, made up of more than 50 colleagues, is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Because sharing the same language eases understanding and makes the help that much more effective.

Mental health and organisational practices in the area of critical incident stress management were addressed by Steven Shorrock, a human factors specialist at EUROCONTROL, and Jóhann Wium Magnússon, of the ICAO Aviation Medicine department, respectively.

The second session, which will be held tomorrow, will feature a presentation by Katarzyna Olszewska, a psychologist and specialist on CISM at PANSA, the Polish air navigation services provider, and Konrad Walicki, a PANSA air traffic controller and CISM programme coordinator, on the impact of the successive crises, first COVID-19 and then the war in Ukraine, on the air control service, given Poland’s shared border with the invaded country.

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