Air Transport World

Changing crews: airlines admit they made mistakes in introducing Cockpit Resource Management but believe they are on track now.

Airlines admit they made mistakes in introducing Cockpit Resource Management but believe they are on track now

Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) had its origins in a simple fact: Most airplane crashes occur because something goes wrong in the cockpit. When improvements in aircraft design and engineering, and pilots' mechanical flying skills failed to eliminate "pilot error" as a contributing factor to accidents, the focus shifted.

Clearly, something else was going on in the cockpit that needed fixing. The decision was that the captain needed to be changed, and CRM was the tool with which to accomplish the change. The captain no longer would be just the captain. He also would be a manager.

In early attempts to teach captains how to be better managers, airlines brought in management experts, psychologists, therapists, team builders, motivational speakers and language experts. These gurus lectured, showed slides, played games. They asked pilots to explore how they felt about each other. They delved into the subtle nuances of language--verbal and nonverbal--and how humans really communicate. They tested pilots' personalities to discover the "real person" inside the uniform.

Given this emphasis on "pop psychology" and "touchy feely" exercises, the fact that CRM was not embraced quickly by pilots should not be surprising. Some saw it as a serious compromise of the captain's authority, an open door to anarchy in the cockpit. Some argued that CRM would allow the crew to challenge the captain's decisions constantly; that if anything ever got done in the cockpit, it would be by committee or by default.

Additionally, CRM was challenging patterns of behavior shaped by years of training and tradition that emphasized that above all, the captain was in charge. Indeed, prior to the introduction of CRM, many would suggest that airline cockpits essentially were single-pilot operations with the co-pilot and flight engineer along for the ride.

Training emphasized the primacy of the captain. …

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