Crew Resource Management

Crew resource management – learning processes from aviation

Reiner Hertl
09.11.2020
1 picture
5 minutes

Human factor – human error? Human errors can have serious consequences. To minimize human error, Crew Resource Management was developed around the human factor. This is definitely a revolution, also in the development of teamwork. And a pioneer for many industries!

A consistent mental model: for all players

In order to ensure that flight operations run as smoothly as possible, the aviation industry has developed “Crew Resource Management” as a further development from the former “Cockpit Resource Management”. In order to reduce human sources of error and to reflect role structures through special training.

One starting point: safety-relevant incidents generally result from the concurrence of different factors. Combinations of: human errors, the social climate within the crew (keyword: cabin hierarchy), technical defects and operational problems. A further keyword for such a combination is certainly the increasing automation and the associated growing system complexity, because a new kind of intelligence in the form of intelligent control computers, is also on board.

A current analogy: The problems with the MCAS control program of the Boeing 737 Max. In September, pilot representatives demanded changes to the cockpit procedures, a new checklist and more precise instructions for what to do in the event of an incorrect stall warning.

CRM training content: for cockpit crew and cabin crew

Error management is a central focus of these training courses. Simulations are used, e.g. in so-called mock-ups (here the cabin with cockpit is simulated standing on the ground). CRM is explicitly concerned with non-technical skills (NOTECHS). It is about teamwork and situational awareness, decision-making and work efficiency, stress avoidance and safety, exclusion of misunderstandings, communication and coordination with each other – also between cockpit and cabin.

These Crew Resource Management exercises have established themselves in such a way that they have been introduced as training and further education measures also in high-reliability areas and high-risk organizations, including the medical and maritime sectors. Aviation also functioned as a kind of avant-garde to train attitude change and to optimize event chains. Almost all elements of the CRM working model can be valid for other organizations and companies (but without the claim to being the ideal solution).

The history of the origins of Crew Resource Management: the early chapters

The tragic, sad birth of CRM already took place half a century ago. With the increase in air traffic in the sixties and seventies, the number of air accidents also rose significantly. In the end, they were mostly caused by human error:

For example, the crash of Eastern Air Line flight 401 in December 1972 or the Tenerife air disaster in 1977. It became increasingly clear to accident investigators that the causes were less to do with a lack of correct technical and aeronautical skills than with a lack of teamwork. The human factor. Human behaviour, which – understood and evaluated – should be trained and improved.

In 1979, a conference was convened by NASA and the aviation industry. Professor R. L. Helmreich of the University of Texas is considered one of the forefathers and pioneers of CRM. A CRM whose contents are designed for

the knowledge, skills and motives related to cognitive processes and interpersonal relationships.

Professor R. L. Helmreich of the University of Texas

The importance of CRM: JAR-OPS and SOPs

Expert CRM from flight training practice: and FOR-DEC

With the introduction of Crew Resource Management Training, “FOR-DEC” was developed by employees of the DLR Department of Aviation and Space Psychology and Lufthansa. A decision-making model in which all aviation interaction partners can react together in stress situations. Following a scheme: Facts, Options, Risks and Benefits – Decision Execution Check.

Training courses have to meet the requirements of EASA Air Ops. For example, Lufthansa Aviation Training – one of the leading companies in the flight training segment – offers training modules such as “Human Factors Training”. Implied therein: CRM units. The crews must periodically complete so-called “recurrent” training courses.

The human factor: CRM in high risk and high reliability areas

The importance of Crew Resource Management is underlined by the fact that it has been extended in further versions to complex areas of application in HRO organizations: in the medical field as “Anaesthesia Crisis Resource Management”, in the maritime field as “Bridge Resource Management”, in the professional fire department (“Team Resource Management”) and in the offshore oil industry. Even if it is first and foremost about teamwork, CRM even extends to the training of one-man crews, the “Single-Pilot Crew Resource Management”. CRM is constantly being developed across all industries.

Humans are better at? – Machines are better at? HABA and MABA

Human-machine systems in the aircraft are from the outset one of the main topics in CRM. Both, humans and machines, have their strengths and weaknesses. For optimum effectiveness, this question has been asked since the 1950s in this context with the help of the famous “Fitts List” (after Paul Fitts): What makes humans better than machines, what makes machines better than humans?

MABA: On the credit side of machines, so to speak, was accuracy and calculation, multitasking and resistance (on the other hand, we’ll come back to human resistance, “resilience”, in a moment). On the HABA side, however, creativity and flexibility still stand today – despite all the increased automation. And above all: empirical values that can be transferred to current situations.

The human vs. machine topic – with the aforementioned constantly increasing automation and AI – is naturally spreading further and further. On the one hand there is the algorithm of autonomous flying, which is “still” programmed in advance by humans. On the other hand we have the human-piloted air taxi. Both human error and machine error must always be targeted.

Individual resilience and team resilience: ongoing realignment of CRM

In the findings of CRM research, more and more attention is now evidently being paid to the factor resilience. The inclusion of human resilience is now more important than ever in crew resource management. Our ability to survive difficult situations without impairment and to master crises. Also a human factor. And a further step forwards in the development of Crew Resource Management.

by Reiner Hertl

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