Reality Check – CRM in Single Cockpit

Human Error in combat flying continues to the greatest cause of accidents [1], with the trends remaining, more or less, stagnant. Commonest causes for aircraft mishap are [2]:- (a) Loss of situational awareness (LOSA): LOSA leads to disorientation, mid-air collision, flight into terrain, getting lost and running out of fuel, wheels up landing, flight into bad weather; (b) Poor Decision Making and Judgement: Poor judgement and decision making compromises the situational awareness; and (c) Hazardous attitudes: Some pilots display poor or irrational judgement due to their perceived self-image. This makes some of them to violate SOPs and regulations, risk the margins of safe performance, and operate aircraft beyond his own or aircraft’s capabilities.

Crew Resource Management (CRM) in single cockpit, in addition to the conventional pilot training of emphasis on individuals’ technical proficiency [3], is advocated  as an additional tool to help the combat pilot achieve safe and efficient flight operations. This is not at all meant to undermine traditional pilot skills and airmanship, instead CRM helps resolve the inherent problems of integrating a collection of technically proficient individuals into an effective team [4].

CRM is meant to be applied during all phases of operational flight, with the broad premise that the human behaviour is modifiable. The objective of such training, of CRM, is to help rookie pilots learn to maintain task attention and situational awareness. This is for enhancing safe and efficient operation of aircraft for mission accomplishment.

The defined goal for CRM is increased safety, enhanced effectiveness and improved efficiency of operations. This programme aims to help pilots build resource awareness and its management. CRM skilled pilots have awareness of operational environment, anticipation of contingencies, and planning and allocation of activities to manage stress and workload. Here, the three vital clusters are: (a) Communication process and decisions; (b) Team building and its maintenance; and (c) Workload management and situational awareness.

There are several stages in training, which can be modified as per the stage of training of a pilots as well as operational needs. The same are enumerated hereafter, using the model of pilot training in the Indian Air Force.

Sensitisation Stage at Basic Flying Training Academy. The ab-initio pilots at the Flying Training Academy can be sensitised to basic concepts of CRM. This didactic module [5, 6] must include the basic issues of communication; situational awareness; problem solving, decision making, judgement; leadership-followership; stress management; critique; and interpersonal skills. At this stage the CRM concepts have to be taught in parts, and are meant only to sensitize the trainee pilot.

Awareness Stage at earning the ‘Wings’.  The first formal CRM capsule is to be conducted for the flight cadets after their successful completion of flying training. The joyous moment of earning their ‘wings’ and the positive motivation of becoming a successful pilot has to be tapped. This training is to be in the form of a seminar which must include the broad concepts and case studies to highlight the lessons to be learnt.

Reinforcement Stage before Operational Flying.  The second formal CRM training schedule is advocated before the pilot commences his operational flying training. This is to be conducted as a workshop. The complete gamut of topics on CRM and case studies, including accident investigation, are to be covered with active participation of the aircrew, in smaller groups of 8 to 10 each. It is proposed that the fighter trainer simulator, if available, be used for the participants to mock-fly simulated real life situations. This is to be video-recorded and utilized for subsequent debrief and analysis.

Consolidation Stage on Fully-Ops Status.   CRM refresher training has to be conducted at the command headquarters or centralized at the Institute of Flight Safety (IFS), where a small group of pilots can come after two years of Squadron tenure or as soon as they are fully ops. The refresher training, as a workshop, is to aim at case study analysis, with critique about the situations and role of CRM for a positive outcome. The objectives of each CRM workshop for the trained aircrew must be defined as per the aircraft stream and the role of the pilot. Hence pilots from similar stream must be detailed for the workshop together. It is advisable the ATC and Fighter Controllers and Maintenance Managers must also be brought in the loop at this juncture, to understand the principles of CRM, their role and aviation safety.

This proposal for CRM training for single cockpit aims at sensitizing the pilots early, in the training stage itself, to CRM issues. They are to be sensitised to aviation safety issues while honing their flying skills to develop associations between safe flying skills with CRM skills. Thereafter at regular intervals a dedicated refresher of CRM skills is required to reinforce the early gains of learning. It may be difficult to annunciate the outcome or the benefits of such a programme in advance. Yet like any prospective programme, the foremost thing is to place the programme in place, and thereafter have a regular evaluation by an independent body. A tangible period of few years has to be given to reap the benefits. It may be premature to say what benefits would accrue, but the lessons learnt elsewhere must keep everyone alive to the hope that CRM programmes aim at reduction of human error related accidents, in turn to help improve the flight safety records of an air force. The behavioural markers of CRM trained pilots are adequate preparation, good planning, sustained vigilance and effective workload management. Thus the outcome of CRM training, at individual level, is expected to result in motivation, learning and changing mental attitudes.


1. Kumar BKU, Malik H. Analysis of fatal human error aircraft accidents in IAF. Ind J Aerospace Med 2003; 47(1): 30-36

2. Alkov RA. The Naval Safety Center’s Aircrew Coordination Training Program. 1991.

3. Helmreich RL, Foushee CH. Why crew resource management? Empirical and theoretical bases of human factors training in Aviation. In Cockpit Resource Management. Weiner EL, Kanki BG, Helmreich RL (Eds). Academic Press, San Diego; 1993: 3-45.

4. Chidester TR. Critical issues for CRM training and research. In Cockpit Resource Management. Weiner EL, Kanki BG, Helmreich RL (Eds). Academic Press, San Diego; 1993: 315-336.

5. Prince C, Salas E. Training and research for teamwork in Military. In Cockpit Resource Management. Weiner EL, Kanki BG, Helmreich RL (Eds). Academic Press, San Diego; 1993: 337-366.

6. Kanki BG, Palmer MT. Communication and crew resource management. In Cockpit Resource Management. Weiner EL, Kanki BG, Helmreich RL (Eds). Academic Press, San Diego; 1993: 99-136.

Acknowledgement: Image courtesy www.freedigitalphotos.net

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