Flight Crew Resource Management Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :


Flight crew resource management is the science of training flight crews to interact and communicate in a highly authoritarian environment while at the same time making use of the intelligence and professional resources of all the members of a flight crew. In the cockpit, the captain is in unquestionable control of the airplane because he is ultimately responsible for all aspects of the flight, including hardware, equipment and personnel on board. However, Each member of the crew can make important contributions, especially during in flight crises, and their input can be thwarted because of the highly authoritarian command culture. This paper examines the issues of fright crew resource management, and seeks to expand the definition of crew resource management to include personal communication style in order to further facilitate professional, accurate and open communication between the flight staff and commander.


According to Wilson (2001) aviation accidents and mishaps are attributed to human error in 60% to 80% of cases. A large number of these mishaps can be directly traced to the failures in coordination among cockpit crews during the time of the crises. The situations are not caused by poor pilot or crew skills. Just the opposite is true. When highly professional staff and crew encounter a crisis situation, often their training can hinder the communication and double checking of decision making that could often avoid the indecent, or accident. In the majority of controlled flight accidents and incidents poor pilot performance through improper and faulty crew resource management (CRM) have been cited as contributing factors in numerous accidents and incidents reported by major airlines during the period covering 1983 to 1985 (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1997). The U.S. General Accounting Office (1997) found that CRM deficiencies, such as the lack of coordination among cockpit crews, captain's decisions to keep tasks to himself rather than assign tasks or check decisions with other members, and/or a lack of effective crew supervision were a contributing cause in approximately half of accidents that occurred between 1983 and 1985 that involved one or more fatalities. Other reviews have found similar factors at work within cited accident reports (Chidester, Helmreich, Gregorich, & Geis, 1991; Gregorich, Helmreich, & Wilhelm, 1990).

Within the airline culture, outsiders can often see the mistakes which are made by the pilot or captain in the event of a crises clearly. However, the pilot, because of the training he has received so often unaware that his greatest resources lay around him and by utilizing these resources, the pilot could avoid the mishap completely. Within the aviation environment, these types of teamwork deficiencies are often embarrassing and highly publicized. They can also lead to tragic consequences. For example Eastern Airlines Flight 401 crashed in the Florida Everglades in December 1972 "because the crew permitted their fully operational Lockheed L-1011 to fly into the ground. What the crew failed to realize was that the altitude hold feature of the autopilot had been accidentally disconnected" (Kayten, 1993). Results of the FAA investigation revealed that the entire three-person crew was preoccupied with a landing gear light that had failed to illuminate at the time of the accident rather then maintaining a separation in the duties, with one officer maintaining overall flight supervision.

While evidence has been provided that suggests that simulations can be used to practice and/or train CRM-related skills (Baker, Prince, Shrestha, Oser, & Salas, 1993) these studies do not address the issue of corporate culture, and how the inherent training which is present in the command structure of the major commercial airline piloting crew can be a contributing source of hindrance to CRM in the cockpit during an in-flight incident. Additionally, national cultures can play a powerful role in determining the effectiveness of CRM training programs (Maurino, 1994). While the American culture has a highly structured and individualized understanding of leadership, cross cultural expectations between multi-national crews can stand in the way of effective communication, and thus also hinder CRM. Attitudes that define the core concepts of CRM differ dramatically across national borders. For example, the following issues which are culturally defined further influence the communication styles of pilots and crew.

Individualism of the leader vs. collectivism throughout the crew.

The 'proper' practice of power distance, and how subordinated should treat the captain - pilot.

The stress response of uncertainty avoidance can disrupt communication, and hinder CRM

Continuing division of roles between sexes also can affect the judgment of pilots and crew. (Hofstede, 1988).

Due to these cultural factors, initial attempts to apply CRM globally were often initially unsuccessful because of a failure to recognize the power of national cultural influence over the decision making process. (Helmreich, Wilhelm, Klinect, & Merritt, 2001).

Statement of the Problem

The problem which has continued to plague the flight crews is that even with CRM training, ineffective communication and communication breakdowns continue to occur within the flight crews. As stated by Wilson, (2001) "Although positive lessons have been learned, areas in need of improvement exist. To begin with, despite CRM's long history, there remains a lack of consistency within the aviation industry" The failure of CRM to fully address the communication needs in the cockpit has prompted the FAA to develop different sets of guidelines for the implementation. However, even in the presence of differing approaches, CRM curriculum design and development, as well as for implementation have only become more ambiguous rather than more effective.

The reasons which lurk behind the continuing partial effectiveness of CRM methods is that the methodology and formal aspect of the CRM communication processes do not affect changes in the culturally learned and personality-based communication styles. Formalizing training only will be as effective as the training can standardize the way in which individuals communicate. While individuals can be taught extrinsic communication skills, they still will have personality based, a culturally learned communication patterns that will not be replaced by training. These patterns will tend to be the fall back patterns which individuals use in the case of increased stress, or in-flight emergency. Like the difference between learned, conditioned response or genetic programming, some of the communication culture which a person brings to the flight deck will not be replaced by CRM training.

The following literature review contains references to studies which have evaluated the success and failure of CRM within the flight crews of major airlines. These studies document the partial success, and continuing difficulties which flight crews have regarding communication failures in the event of in flight incident or accidents. Following the literature review, suggestions will be made regarding how the CRM training can be improved and modified to teach flight crews to adapt to programmed communication styles while still using CRM communication methods.

Literature Review.

Evaluating the purposes of CRM.

In the process of evaluating the effectiveness of CRM training, a number of hypotheses have been constructed. Alliger, Tannenbaum, Bennett, and Traver (1997) argued that the stated response to training of "liking the training" is the most common response when training assessment was conducted.

Overall, the most of the research review concluded that the majority of participants like CRM training that included role playing, but did not feel as positively toward lecture-based training. For example, Schiewe (1995) found that units that were based on case studies or that used role play were very well liked by participants, whereas those-based mostly on lecture were not rated favorably (Baker, Bauman, & Zalesny, 1991). This suggests that methods that promote interaction among participants are liked better and therefore more effective than those that are more passive.

Reactions as to how participants "liked" training are not the only type of reactions that may be collected from participants. In terms of utility, the reviewed CRM training programs were seen to be worthwhile, useful, and applicable. Specifically, themes were seen as relevant (Grau & Valot, 1997), and participants felt that the CRM class should be expanded to other fleets and/or populations (Incalcaterra & Holt, 1999).

Positive reactions to CRM were found to exist in single-airline studies as well as in multifleet and multiairline studies (Butler, 1993). Furthermore, the teaching of teamwork behaviors such as communication, decision making, leadership (Alkov, 1991), the use of role-playing exercises (Baker et al., 1991), and the inclusion of cabin crew members in training (Vandermark, 1991) have all contributed to obtaining positive causal relationship between training and crew communications

In many of the studies which were reviewed, common themes came to light regarding the factors used to identify and evaluate the affective nature of CRM training. The following questions were asked in many of the studies which reviewed CRM, and used as a measuring stick to determine CRM's affective nature.

1) Do Aviators Learn About CRM? (Learning Evidence)

In a multilevel evaluation effort, learning evidence is the second level of evaluation, and it refers to "the principles, facts, and skills which were understood and absorbed by participants" (Kirkpatrick, 1976, p. 11). Although evidence at this level includes the learning that occurred during the program, it does not include the actual exhibition…

Sources Used in Document:


Alkov, R.A. (1991). U.S. Navy aircrew coordination training -- A progress report. In R.S. Jensen (Ed.), Proceedings of the 6th international Symposium on Aviation Psychology (pp. 368-371). Columbus: Ohio State University.

Alliger, G.M., Tannenbaum, S.I., Bennett, W., Jr., & Traver, H. (1997). A meta-analysis of the relations among training criteria. Personnel Psychology, 50, 341-358.

Baker, D.P., Prince, C., Shrestha, L., Oser, R., & Salas, E. (1993). Aviation computer games for crew resource management training. international Journal of Aviation Psychology, 3, 143-156.

Butler, R.E. (1993). LOFT: Full mission simulation as crew resource management training. In E.L. Wiener, B.G., Kanki, & R.L. Helmreich (Eds.), Cockpit resource management (pp. 231-259). San Diego, CA: Academic.

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