More About CRM or Where Aviation Meets Psychology
Updated: Sep 16, 2019
Crew Resource Management or CRM is a concept existing in aviation since the 70s of the last century. Its prime function is to enhance safety and it is based on the realization that tragic incidents are unfortunately predominantly caused by human errors and not by technical desripances. Unfolding this understanding further created the need of a special program centred around the human factor and developing the cognitive skills of the crew.
Obviously, nobody goes to work with the intention to create a disaster but it sometimes happens and in order to prevent troubles CRM came into play. Initially, it used to mean Cockpit Resource Management and it was designed to train only pilots' soft skills but later it widened its diapason and it became applicable to entire aviation teams including the cabin crew, dispatchers, and maintenance personnel.
In 1979, following a chain of catastrophic events in aviation history, NASA organized a conference with a focus on flight deck resource management. As a result, a number of American airlines agreed to participate in courses that aim at improving the interpersonal intelligence of their pilots..
Skills were divided to hard skills and soft skills sets. The hard skills of the flight deck require mastering of all conditions needed for flying an aircraft, while the soft skills advance the communication among the staff, and, sadly, they had been neglected for long time. The new program sent flight deck to classes where they played games and got involved in activities not related to their job, in order for them to adopt an increased social awareness. Some of the participants reacted negatively to the CRM program calling it manipulative and a "charm school".
CRM fundamental principles
The higher purpose of CRM is safety and a safe environment could only be achieved by eliminating barriers like poor leadership, fixation, and bad decision making.
Aviation psychologists Lauber and Helmreich determined the specific approaches that should be taught not only to pilots but to all the staff involved with a flight.
First, they identified the problem with seniority. Crew members with tens of thousands flying hours naturally possess authority and everyone avoids confronting them but the reality is they are not always absolutely right. In an ideal world, there will be an environment of equal respect, teamwork, and cooperation. When such conditions are provided, even junior team members are stimulated to shine with assertiveness, adaptability, and situational awareness.
Second, recognizing limitations is crucial. This practice extends to critical thinking methods such as risk management and identifying threats. All these abilities have proved their importance and are incorporated in aviation trainings all around the world nowadays.
Last but not least, is the refined quality of traits such as emotional intelligence, cultural awareness, conflict management, etc.
CRM is currently mandatory for most aviation professionals and is considered a necessary addition to airtravel career preparation packages.
We cannot measure precisely how much it helps and how many incidents never happened thanks to it. However, for instance, agreement, cross-checking, and positive feedback are CRM techniques from the everyday life which guarantee secure operations because human error is predicted. An example of a predicted human error is the cross-checking when arming the aircraft doors. One crew member arms the door but the other one is cross-checking, then giving a positive feedback. Afterwards, a senior crew member is confirming, the system is reconfirming, and finally, the Captain is checking again. Only then, there is an agreement. It might sound boring but this is how it works when the stake is life.
According to an aerospace research project about CRM written by aviation psychologists from The University of Texas of Austin "examples were found of errors avoided, errors trapped, and errors mitigated."
CRM is occasionally criticized for educating outdated ideas and also for being inconsistent because it is presented differently to different audiences. Regardless, the benefits of it are prevailing and now important fields dealing with emergency response like healthcare and firefighting departments are integrating CRM in their training programs.