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Open Rapport in the Cockpit Is Essential to CRM

Crew resource management (CRM) has come a long way since the National Aeronautics and Space Administration introduced the concept in 1979.

CRM is more an outlook, an attitude and a method than it is a technical skill. It teaches the interpersonal acumen needed to safely and efficiently fly an airplane using all available resources: crewmembers, hardware, air traffic control, workload management and more. It helps ensure situational awareness, when the pilot not only knows where the airplane is and where it's going but also has an overview of the entire operation.

Communication and Collaboration

After a series of deadly commercial crashes several decades ago, the airlines promoted CRM to break down an old-school barrier to safety: cockpit communication. Back then, the captain was more dictator than director, and everyone else followed his lead.

Much of that one-way style of flying evolved from the early days of commercial aviation, because the military was the biggest source of airline pilots. Military training came with a good dose of autocratic decision-making, particularly from former military pilots who mostly flew single pilot.

Today, piloting is a more collaborative endeavor. The Air Florida Boeing 737 that crashed into the 14th Street Bridge over the Potomac River after departing Washington National Airport during a snow shower on January 13, 1982, is an example of a flight where better CRM could have made a difference. While several factors contributed to the tragedy that killed 70 passengers and four crew members, one fact stands out: The first officer repeatedly told the captain the engines were not performing as the aircraft accelerated on the runway. The captain insisted things were normal and continued the takeoff. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded there was enough time to abort.

Currently, most commercial pilots are trained at civilian schools, where CRM is introduced immediately and continues to be stressed throughout the curriculum, producing pilots better suited to cockpit collaboration. And while the accident rate is substantially lower than it was 30 years ago, studies by the Federal Aviation Administration and other organizations show that 75 percent of aircraft accidents are still caused by human error – in other words, by people, not the plane.

That's why CRM has now branched out to not only include pilots but also flight attendants, maintenance technicians, schedulers and dispatchers, management and anyone responsible for flight safety. The concept is even catching on outside aviation and is now used by fire departments, the marine industry and in the medical community to ensure patient safety.

That widespread philosophy is part of the culture at Chantilly Air in Manassas, VA, where all employees receive CRM training. The training gives employees an appreciation and understanding of other people's jobs within the company and creates good workplace cohesion, noted Andreas Bentz, Chantilly's safety and security coordinator. Assuming leadership responsibility, along with following direction – whether it's a mechanic changing a tire or a manager making a strategic decision – is also part of the company's CRM training, he explained. "It's for everybody," said Bentz. "Everything we do is CRM."

Crew Briefings Mitigate Risk

While business aviation embraces CRM and integrates it into all areas of training, some operators approach the concept from many directions, going well beyond what's required for safety.

At Linear Air, a Concord, MA charter company, there's no single-pilot flying, said President and CEO William Herp, despite the company's history of operating Cessna Caravans and Eclipse very light jets – aircraft that are certified for one pilot. Herp said two-pilot operations, with standard callouts and standard operating procedures, not only increase safety, but also facilitate easy crew transitions and help the company participate in the ARG/US Gold safety program.

Planning is also paramount at Jet Logistics, a Charlotte, NC operator of 14 aircraft, including seven air ambulances, according to chief pilot Kevin Sides. Before each flight, the crew discusses what to expect, the risks involved and precautions to take. "It takes pressure off the captain when each person knows what to do," he said. CRM is an instinctive part of the daily operations, "not just a class taught once per year."

Thorough crew briefings and attention to detail are high priorities at The Hertz Corporation, which maintains a small flight department in Teterboro, NJ. It's not uncommon for a crew to meet the day before a trip, particularly for an international flight, and discuss every procedure, requirement and contingency and continue that discussion.

"We make it a habit to share information while we're flying," said Hertz aviation manager Skip Keeler. "There's a constant dialogue during the trip."

Preflight discussions are a formal procedure called "active crew engagement" or ACE, as it's called at Citationair, said John Witzig, the company's senior vice president of flight operations. Threat identification and air management training are big parts of Citationair's CRM, particularly for departures and arrivals, when heavy workloads pose the greatest safety risk. The training has reduced altitude deviations 17 percent, he added.

Open rapport in the cockpit is a central component of Lincoln Financial Group's CRM, according to Larry Brown, the company's chief pilot. "We ask everyone to speak up if they're not comfortable with something," he said.

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