CRM Skills Training (OGHFA BN)

CRM Skills Training (OGHFA BN)

Operator's Guide to Human Factors in Aviation    
CRM Skills Training

Briefing Note

1 Background

Pilot training programs historically focused almost exclusively on the technical aspects of flying and on an individual pilot’s performance; they did not effectively address crew management issues that also are fundamental to safe flight.

2 Introduction

This briefing note presents guidance in practical terms so that operators can immediately begin to move forward with their crew resource management (CRM) training programs. CRM training is designed to become an integral part of training and operations.

3 Objectives of CRM Training

The objectives of CRM training are:

  • To enhance crew and management awareness of human factors that could cause or exacerbate incidents that affect the safe conduct of air operations
  • To enhance knowledge of human factors and develop CRM skills and attitudes that, when applied appropriately, could extricate an aircraft operation from incipient accidents and incidents, whether perpetrated by technical or human factor failings
  • To use CRM knowledge, skills and attitudes to conduct and manage aircraft operations, and fully integrate these techniques throughout every facet of the organization’s culture to prevent the onset of incidents and potential accidents
  • To use these skills to integrate commercially efficient aircraft operations with safety
  • To improve the working environment for crews and all those associated with aircraft operations

Finally, the main goal of CRM is establishing a common “corporate safety culture” within the company.

4 CRM Training in Practice

CRM training focuses on situational awareness, communication skills, teamwork, task allocation and decision making within a comprehensive framework of standard operating procedures (SOPs). Thus, training in CRM involves communicating basic knowledge of human factors concepts that relate to aviation and providing the tools necessary to apply these concepts operationally. It represents a new focus on crew-level (as opposed to individual-level) aspects of training and operations.

In fact, CRM training should involve all people working in an airline and should be considered as a long-term development process that encompasses a varied set of training resources and media. These run from the traditional and passive to the highly interactive and experiential such as: self-study, classroom awareness training, modeling, classroom skills training, continual skills practice in both classroom and simulator, and practice or coaching during flying operations.

As discussed in the briefing note CRM Schemes, CRM training programs should be broken into three phases:

  • Awareness
  • Practice and feedback
  • Reinforcement

5 Essential Curriculum Elements

Curriculum elements are divided into two major areas: concepts to be understood and skills to be acquired. There is a great value in enhancing "understanding" of certain topics that pertain to the interrelationships among crewmembers. It is of equal importance, however, to develop "skills."

5.1 Concepts to be understood

The following list of topics is not complete, nor is it intended to substitute for the conceptual learning that is an integral part of learning skills. However, the topics constitute the "language" and awareness that enable skills to be understood and ultimately used in an operational environment. These are the topics to understand:

  • Common language or glossary of terms
  • The concept of synergy — a combined effect that exceeds the sum of individual effects
  • The need for individual commitment to CRM principles
  • Guidelines for continued self-improvement (continuation training)
  • Individual attitudes and behavior, and how they affect the team effort
  • Complacency and its effect on team efforts
  • Fitness to fly: the concept that each individual is responsible to arrive at work "fit to fly" and the ramifications and refinements of this concept
  • The impact of environment, such as company policy and culture, air traffic control, aircraft type, etc.
  • Resources available — identification and use
  • Identification and assignment of priorities
  • Human components and behavioral characteristics, including awareness of the human being as a composite of many complex characteristics that are often not controllable. Each crewmember must be aware of these characteristics in order to adjust his or her own actions and behavior
  • Interpersonal relationships and their effect on team work — the way in which crewmembers approach or respond to each other has a critical effect on team building and team results
  • "Team required" versus "individual" tasks — some problems require a team solution, while others may be solved through individual effort
  • Identification of norms — that is, tacitly accepted actions, procedures and expectations. Whether consistent with or deviant from written policy, norms exert strong pressures upon individuals to conform
  • Pilot judgment. Once all information is available to the pilot-in-command, the situation may be clear-cut or may require judgment. These judgment calls are the ones most likely to spark dissent, produce initial resistance and have a negative effect on the team
  • The statutory and regulatory position of the pilot-in-command as team leader and commander. All decision making must be done by or funneled through the pilot-in-command
  • Ground rules — policies and procedures to be followed during the course of instruction, as well as subsequent operations. For example, management support for the program and concepts taught and for those who attempt to act in accordance with learned principles, and the absence of punitive action during the course and afterward in actual flight operations

5.2 CRM skills

From an operational perspective, a skill is an element that is tightly linked with a specific set of subtasks, closely related to performance and requires practice to perfect. Proctor and Dutta (1995) provide a good starting point for an operational definition: “Skill is a goal-directed, well-organized behavior that is acquired through practice and performed with economy of effort.” Most CRM skills are complex cognitive skills that involve problem solving, efficient grouping of information, or use specialized forms of mental representations. These skills take time to develop, and they are specific to the aviation domain.

There is agreement among the airlines that CRM skills need to be trained, but there is little consensus on exactly how those skills are best trained. Most CRM skills and markers have been trained at the knowledge level with some actual skill training taking place in line-oriented flight training (LOFT) sessions and their subsequent debriefings.

Airlines have not clearly understood the value of distinguishing between knowledge and skill. This distinction is essential because it allows an airline to train knowledge through presentations and documents while training skills through practice and feedback. Thus, CRM skills do have a knowledge component that can be trained in classroom settings, but the actual skills need to be trained in interactive computer-based training (CBT) and simulator environments where crewmembers can actually practice and receive feedback.

6 Skills Taught

There are six major areas to be taught:

6.1 Communication and interpersonal skills

Specific skills associated with good communication practices include such items as polite assertiveness and participation, active listening and feedback. In order to improve the communication channel, cultural influences must be taken into account as well as factors such as rank, age and crew position, all of which can create barriers to communication in the cockpit. Polite assertiveness is a skill frequently ignored in communications training but vital to a healthy cockpit. A pilot-in-command may be open to communication but temporarily unable to receive and comprehend. Other crewmembers must be aware of the importance of the information they hold and have a strong feeling of self-value; a single hesitant attempt to communicate important data constitutes a failure to discharge individual responsibility. Pilots-in-command must constantly strive to emphasize this responsibility in their team-building efforts. The concept of "legitimate avenue of dissent" is an important vehicle for "clearing the air" and maintaining lines of communication self-image.

6.2 Situational awareness

Situational awareness refers to one's ability to accurately perceive what is going on in the cockpit and outside the aircraft. It further extends to the planning of several solutions for any emergency situation that could occur in the immediate future. Maintaining a state of awareness of one's situation is a complex process that is greatly motivated by the understanding that one's perception of reality sometimes differs from reality itself. This awareness promotes ongoing questioning, cross-checking and refinement of one's perception. Constant, conscious monitoring of the situation is required. Note that the situation referred to here includes the human environment. The evaluation of oneself and others for partial or total incapacitation is vital but often overlooked.

6.3 Problem solving, decision making and judgment

These three topics are very broad and interrelate to a great extent with each other as well as with the other areas. One may consider problem solving as an overall cycle of events beginning with information input and ending with pilot judgment in making a final decision. During the phase in which information is requested and offered, some conflicting points of view may be represented. Skills in resolving conflict are therefore especially appropriate at this time. All decisions must come from the pilot-in-command because the team will fail if command authority is not maintained. This authority requires the support of all crewmembers. The immediate post-decision review in flight is likewise a vital concept for promoting good decision making.

6.4 Leadership and ‘followership’

In this area, there is clear recognition that the command role carries a special responsibility. For instance, although individual crewmembers should be actively planning and managing their own workloads with respect to time, the pilot-in-command is responsible for supervising the overall management of the flight. This command authority must be acknowledged at all times. The effectiveness of command authority cannot be assumed by position alone. The credibility of a leader is built over time and must be accomplished through conscious effort. Similarly, every non-command crewmember is responsible for actively contributing to the team effort, for monitoring changes in the situation and for being assertive when necessary.

Table 1: Domains for CRM Training


6.5 Stress management

Stress creates a special kind of problem for a crew since its effects are often subtle and difficult to assess. Although any kind of emergency situation generates stress, there is also the stress, both physical and mental, that a crewmember may bring to the situation and that others may not be able to detect. A crewmember's overall fitness to fly may nevertheless decline because of fatigue, mental and emotional problems, etc., to the extent that other crewmembers should consider that individual as incapacitated. Skills related to stress management refer not only to one's ability to perceive and accommodate stress in others but primarily to anticipate, recognize and cope with one's own stress as well. This would include psychological stresses such as those related to scheduling and rostering, anxiety over training courses and checks, career and achievement stresses, interpersonal problems with cabin crewmembers and/or other flight crewmembers, as well as the home and work interface, including related domestic problems (family health, children's education, etc.). It would also include so-called life-event stresses such as those related to the death of a spouse, divorce or marriage — all of which represent major life changes.

Several operators are attempting to alleviate stress problems by encouraging open and frank communication between operational management and flight crewmembers, and by viewing stress as part of the "fitness-to-fly" concept. The prerequisite for this is management understanding of the stress problem. In at least one case, the understanding required by management personnel was fostered by having managers and other non-crew personnel attend the CRM training.

6.6 Critique and self-critique

Skills of critique generally refer to the ability to analyze a plan of action whether future, current or past. Since techniques for accomplishing critique vary according to the availability of time, resources and information, there are three basic types of critique:

  • Pre-mission analysis and planning
  • Ongoing review as part of the in-flight problem-solving process
  • Post-mission debriefing

All three are of vital importance but are often overlooked both in operations and during instruction. Each type has two fundamental elements — remembering to perform the critique and structuring the critique itself.

Table 2: Example of a CRM Training Syllabus for Flight Crew


7 Key Points

To be effective, CRM concepts must be permanently integrated into all aspects of training and operations. While there are various useful methods in use in CRM training today, certain essentials are universal:

  • CRM training is most effective within a training program centered on clear, comprehensive SOPs.
  • CRM training should focus on the functioning of crewmembers as a team, not as a collection of technically competent individuals.
  • CRM training should instruct crewmembers how to behave in ways that foster crew effectiveness.
  • CRM training should provide opportunities for crewmembers to practice the skills necessary to be effective team leaders and team members.
  • CRM training exercises should include all crewmembers functioning in the same roles (e.g., captain, first officer, flight engineer, flight attendants) that they normally perform in flight.
  • CRM training should include effective team behaviors during normal, routine operations.

Good training for routine operations can have a strong positive effect on how well individuals function during times of high workload or high stress. During emergency situations, it is highly unlikely — and probably undesirable — that any crewmember would take the time to reflect upon his or her CRM training in order to choose the appropriate behavior. But practice of desirable behaviors during times of low stress increases the likelihood that emergencies will be handled effectively.

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