What is this CRM stuff we’ve been hearing so much of lately? I can tell you some of the things it isn’t. Although air carriers may call it Company Resource Management, and the manufacturers of some air carrier aircraft in their manuals refer to Crew Resource Management, the FAA (Friendly Feds) mean Cockpit Resource Management when they say CRM, and it is this to which we are addressing ourselves here. This is not to say we will ignore crew interaction in the multi-crew environment; we won’t. But CRM means a great deal more than just that. In the not-too-distant past there were two kinds of air carrier captains. There were those who insisted on doing all the flying (you know the type, right after lift-off they would say to the right seater, who was called a co-pilot, not a first officer, “Gear up, flaps up, shut up!”) Then there were those who would say to the right seater immediately after lift-off, “OK, you take it. I’m going to have a little nap. Wake me if anything exciting happens.”
Modern Airline CRM
Neither of those situations prevails in today’s world. In the modern air carrier flight deck (no longer a cockpit) the human interaction is a perfect model of cooperation. Probably nowhere else that people work together can we see two (sometimes three) people working like a well-oiled machine. I have personally observed this and it is a joy to see. Since the FAA has been emphasizing CRM, it has been reflected in company manuals as required procedure. Although when he is “manipulating the controls” the first officer flies from the right seat, and by definition is Pilot in Comand, the captain (what used to be called the “first pilot”) is the ultimate authority. The procedure often has them alternating legs, including take-offs and landings, taking turns filling the roles as flying and non-flying pilots.
And speaking of well-oiled machines, there is the story told me by an FAA Air Carrier Operations Inspector that goes like this:
An Air Carrier Inspector assigned to do a route check observed the 1st officer get the weather briefing and file the flight plan. He then observed the captain and 1st officer go through the preflight inspection. And the pre-start checklist, click, click, click, then the pre-takeoff list, call clearance delivery and get a long involved clearance (turn to, climb to, cross at, turn to, climb to, cross at, etc) at which time the captain stuck up his hand with the middle finger extended, used his first two fingers to make a “V” sign, then with the index finger point straight ahead, and nod. The 1st officer nodded in reply. Power was applied, the airplane took off and flew the route. The crew went through the pre-landing checklist, landed, went through the taxi and parking and shutdown lists, and the FAA guy filled out his report, saying, “Congratulations. I’ve never seen such a fine display of cooperation. You two men worked together like a well-oiled machine. Just one thing. What was the captain’s hand signal right after you took that long, involved clearance?” The 1st officer smiled and said, “He was telling me, ‘Screw ’em. Go VFR!'” The FAA Inspector passed the crew on their route check, giving them high marks.
How’s that for crew coordination?
I have been privileged on several occasions to ride jump-seat on Lockheed 1011s, an air carrier jet that requires a three-man (person?) crew, and the crew coordination was a joy to observe. The flight engineer, who also performed the duties of weighmaster, kept close tabs on the fuel burn and the general health of the power plants (engines?), and regularly reported to the captain. The first officer handled checklists and communications and otherwise kept the captain up-to-date on the progress of the flight.
Although these were older airplanes, everything went so smoothly that I might as well have been home sitting in an easy chair (although the jump seat does not offer the comfort of an easy chair).
Two Pilots in a GA Cockpit
Whenever we think of CRM, a multi-person crew in an air carrier airplane comes to mind, but this kind of thinking is a mistake. In addition to a thorough passenger briefing, whenever there are two pilots in the front seat of any airplane, there must be absolutely no doubt about just who is doing what at any given time. This means a thorough cockpit briefing is in order, and this in turn means CRM is occurring. Each pilot must know precisely just what his or her duties, if any, will be. One pilot may say to the other, “Don’t touch anything.” Or one may say, “I’ll fly the airplane. You work the radios.” This is CRM at its most basic. The importance of this kind of briefing cannot be overstressed. Every single time there are two pilots with access to any of the controls, it is imperative that such a briefing occur.
If, for example, the non-flying pilot, without prior understanding, should reach out and retract the gear after take-off, the course of the entire flight might be changed. Neither one is sure of just what the other may be doing, or going to do, and this can very well lead to problems. With no clear understanding of who will be doing what, some important procedure may be missed entirely. For example, each may think the other will extend the landing gear, and since nobody does, a gear-up landing may result.
Since the non-flying pilot had retracted the gear, the flying pilot might very well expect him to extend it. Thus, the importance of this sort of CRM cannot be over-emphasized.
If you think there must be more than one person aboard for there to be CRM, you’re sadly mistaken. CRM commences on every single flight from the time the decision is made to board an airplane with the intention of flying. The call to Flight Service for a weather briefing is CRM. The selection of charts and other paraphernalia to put into the flight bag is CRM. In fact, all the preflight planning is CRM. Once in the airplane, the organization of the cockpit is CRM. Is the cockpit uncluttered? Where do you put the charts and/or clipboard? Thus, every single thing we do is CRM, and if we do something thoughtlessly, we break the safety chain.
I knew a pilot, a good friend, who kept a clipboard and wrote down his time in terms of fuel consumption, knowing that airplane fuel gauges are notoriously inaccurate. This is CRM. Another pilot of my acquaintance, using a grease pencil, writes down important data on the little vent window to his left. This, too, is CRM. Personally, I note on the en route chart the time I pass each VOR along the way. This is also CRM. And although passenger briefing is not strictly crew resource management, in a way it is, because each person on board knows precisely what his or her duties are, even though they may be to sit still and touch nothing.
Just recently I observed an excellent example of single-pilot CRM. I watched a good friend and former student of mine depart on a long trip from Albuquerque, N.M. (ABQ) to Traverse City, Mich. (TVC). He was solo in his Baron. I stood and watched him as he went through a thorough preflight inspection of the airplane, load his baggage, secure the baggage door, board the airplane, arrange the charts, etc., just where he wanted them, go through a start-up of each engine, and then while the engines were warming up, he set up his radios and called for his clearance. What he was engaging in was Cockpit Resource Management.
Virtually all the scheduled carriers are now utilizing CRM at the highest level. It is emphasized in their manuals and put into effect on the flight deck. And all the carriers apply the system of having the captian and first officer alternate legs of each trip, including take-offs and landings. I interviewed a pilot (first officer) who flies for a major air carrier on a type that utilizes a three-person crew. This guy also is a fixed-wing pilot in the Army National Guard in his state, flying the military version of the Beechcraft King Air 200, the C12. Flying as a reserve pilot for his carrier, he gets a little flying in the 727, and flying for the Guard he gets a lot of flying in the King Air. Both of these operations emphasize Cockpit Resource Management, but in quite different ways. For example, the flying pilot on the 727 will make a statement (from the checklist) and the non-flying pilot will respond. It is not always done like this in the Guard. And with the major air carrier, the mandatory takeoff briefing is religiously accomplished, while in the Guard it is often ignored.
The Guard in that state has seven pilots qualified and assigned to the C-12, each with his own personality and habits; and whichever two fly together, each adjusts to the other. The six others all know that, when they are flying with the air carrier pilot, he is a stickler for applying the CRM of the carrier for which he flys. He is trying to get them all to follow the same procedure. And those who fail to practice good crew coordination know just which pilots they fly with will let them get away with it and which will demand a tight ship.
However you choose to consider it, the recent emphasis on Cockpit Resource Management has created a safer environment.
Usual Boilerplate: If you have a comment regarding this column, please post it here rather than sending it to me by direct email. That way others may benefit from your input.