Crew Resource Management (CRM) is defined by the Federal Aviation Administration as, “the effective use of all available resources: human resources, hardware, and information.” The history of CRM comes from NASA research that took place in the late 1970s. NASA focused its research solely on the human error element involved in aircraft accidents with multiple crews. During this time of research, much of the focus of CRM was on the pilot/copilot relationship. It was discovered that select airline captains thought very little of their first officers. In turn, first officers felt that they could not challenge their captain when they didn’t agree with his or her actions. They felt that it was disrespectful to challenge them as captains were the boss in the cockpit. The purpose of the research at that time was to “gain an environment of equal respect, teamwork and cooperation to safely accomplish the mission of the flight.” The most recent CRM model has evolved into “teaching pilots risk management strategies, focusing on workload management, recognizing hazardous attitudes or patterns, maintaining situational awareness, and communicating effectively to operate efficiently and safely in all aspects of flight.” CRM is an important aspect to any flight training department and is critical for an airline pilot’s career.
CRM covers many different concepts including decision-making and risk management. The decision-making side of CRM covers pilots that are faced with an in-flight decision. Pilots are trained to use the knowledge and technology they have available to them when they are faced to make a decision during flight. CRM includes not only pilots but other crew members, flight attendants, ATC, weather reports, and maintenance workers. Pilots can utilize these people and tools to help them make their in-flight decision. Risk management involves preventing risks and how to manage them appropriately if they do arise. Risks include not only environmental such as weather or operational policies but pilot’s personal risks. Pilots can have personal risks such as fatigue, illness or stress that they are aware of but not always tell their crew members about. Factors such as aircraft weight and runway conditions can also influence risks. Two flight cases below highlight the importance of CRM and why proper training is crucial before the flight crew steps in the cockpit.
Korean Air Cargo Flight 8509 is a perfect case study into what tragedies can happen when there is a breakdown of CRM. The Boeing 747 was flown by a crew of 4 out of London Stansted Airport on December 22, 1999. Maintenance personnel warned the Flight Engineer that the captain’s Attitude Director Indicator (ADI, or artificial horizon) was unreliable during a roll before they boarded the aircraft. It was dark outside at the time of takeoff, so the captain was flying entirely by instruments. The captain began a sharp left turn after takeoff, which was not reflected on his inoperable ADI. The CRM breakdown in this instance was that the co-pilot’s ADI was functioning normally but he remained silent as to not challenge the captain. The Flight Engineer began yelling “Bank!” repeatedly, and an alarm rang out warning of the error, but the pilot continued his sharp turn until the left wing dragged the ground and the plane smacked the ground at high speed and 90 degrees of left bank. All 4 crew onboard perished in the cash.
Southwest Airlines Flight 1248 is another example of where CRM training is crucial. On December 8, 2005 a Boeing 737-7H4 ran off the departure end of runway 31 center just after landing at Chicago Midway Airport. The aircraft rolled through the blast pad fencing and the airport’s perimeter fence where it finally came to a stop after striking a vehicle, which killed a child that was in the vehicle. The cause of the accident was the pilots’ failure to use available reverse thrust in a timely manner to safely slow or stop the airplane after landing. This failure occurred because the pilots’ first experience and lack of familiarity with the airplane’s autobrake system distracted them from thrust reverser during the challenging landing. This case shows that not only were the pilots at fault for the accident but Southwest Airlines as a company. The company failed to train the pilots and assure that they were clear on the operating procedures for the aircraft they were flying.
Between 60-80% of aviation accidents are caused by human error, and a large portion of that are specifically caused by poor Crew Resource Management. Millions of dollars have been invested into CRM training at airlines, flight schools, and other businesses that operate aircraft. Continual CRM training that focuses on teaching pilots and aircraft crew error avoidance, early detection of errors, and minimizing consequences resulting from CRM errors generally has a positive outcome and desired behavioral change. However, it can be difficult to evaluate the impact of CRM training as it is hard to quantify the concept of accidents avoided. Thus, it was determined that more research into the long-term effects of CRM training needs to be conducted in the coming years.
Companies are wanting to dig deeper into how they can better equip and train their employees to use CRM tactics. The FAA has an Advisor Circular (AC) published specifically for crew resource management training. In addition to the certain essential that are universal to CRM, the Advisory Circular also lists effective CRM characteristics which include: CRM is a comprehensive system of applying human factors concepts to improve crew performance, CRM embraces all operational personnel, CRM can be blended in all forms of aircrew training, CRM concentrates on crewmembers’ attitudes and behaviors and their impact on safety, CRM uses the crew as a unit of training, CRM is training that requires the active participation of all crewmembers. It provides an opportunity for individuals and crews to examine their own behavior, and to make decisions on how to improve cockpit teamwork. The number one goal in aviation is safety. Where CRM characteristics are compromised or left out, there’s room for error to slip in which can lead to incidents or accidents that could cause fatalities. Companies in the aviation industry need to ensure that they are taking all of the right steps in training their crews before they are put on the aircraft with souls on board.