Crew resource management in general aviation for
David Freedman and Michael Nendick
The University of
This Paper was presented at the Fourth Australian Aviation Psychology
Symposium Manly, 16-20 March 1998. From the forthcoming edited
proceedings of The Symposium: Hayward, B.J. & Lowe, A.R. (Eds.). (in
press). "Aviation Resource Management", to be published by Ashgate,
Aldershot UK, in 1999.
The single-pilot operating in General Aviation (GA) has
arguably one of the most demanding civil aviation tasks, which is
reflected in the disproportionate rate of accidents experienced compared
with other sectors of the aviation industry (Ritchie, 1988). Studies have
shown that some form of human failure is present in over 70% of all GA
aircraft accidents, with poor judgement and decision making, and
inadequate pre-flight and in-flight planning being cited as the major
causal factors (Trollip & Jensen, 1991). GA accident and incident
rates far exceed those of the airlines, as do the numbers of people killed
or injured. In 1996, the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation (BASI) (1996a)
published a report on fatal airplane accidents in Australia. Of 75
accidents reviewed, 74 involved GA aircraft, one involved a regional
airline, and none involved a major carrier. There were 162 fatalities with
the majority occurring in single-engine aircraft. Poor judgement was the
most commonly assigned human factor. Other factors were poor in-flight
decision making, and inadequate pre-flight preparation. These results are
consistent with world-wide findings that inadequate decision making
contributes to a large portion of accidents in GA and airline operations
The airline industry, whilst experiencing a much lower
accident rate than GA, has sought to address human factor issues in flight
safety through the introduction of Crew Resource Management (CRM)
training. Although there has been extensive research conducted into CRM
for the airline multi-pilot crews, research into CRM for GA has been
sparse. While many of the principles and concepts of multi-crew CRM may be
applicable to the single-pilot environment, others may not. This paper
summarizes selected findings of a study that evaluated the relevance of
multi-crew CRM concepts to Australian single-pilot GA operations
The Delphi method (Ziglio, 1996) was selected to
provide a structured process for collecting and distilling knowledge from
a group of experts by means of a series of questionnaires interspersed
with controlled feedback. Developed and validated by the Rand Organization
(USA) in the 1950's, the Delphi technique demonstrated that iteration and
controlled feedback provided benefits over "mere" statistical aggregation
of opinion (Dalkey, 1972). It was found that: (1) on the initial round, a
wide spread of individual answers typically ensued; (2) with iterations
and feedback, the distribution of individual responses progressively
narrowed (forming consensus); and (3) the group response became more
According to Ziglio (1996), the selection of members for
a Delphi panel on the basis of expertise provides a more robust response
than a larger number of panel members selected at random. Consequently,
the membership criterion established for this study was either:
- an appropriate degree in aviation, or psychology with aviation
related experience, and knowledge of the principles of CRM;
- bona-fide CRM instruction experience; or
- extensive experience in GA and a high level of working knowledge of
The resulting research panel consisted of thirteen
individuals. Five were industry CRM providers. Three were psychologists
with expertise in aviation human factors (HF). Three had aviation science
degrees. Four were airline pilots and four were current GA commercial
pilots. One was a full-time flight instructor. One worked for BASI, and
one with the Australian aviation insurance industry.
The study included the following research questions:
- Is there a suitable definition for the CRM concept in relation to
single-pilot GA operations?
- Is there a need for modified CRM training for single-pilot
- What components should be included in such CRM training for
- What is the need for, and methods of, CRM reinforcement
- Should CRM training be mandated by the regulatory
- If CRM training were to be mandated, what competency
standards should be required and what evaluation methods employed?
Two rounds of questionnaires were used to collect data
from the panel. Each questionnaire consisted of nine sections, each
section dedicated to a specific research question. The initial
questionnaire used relatively broad terms and invited answers and
comments. These replies were summarized and the answers evaluated and used
to generate the second round questionnaire. Within the second
questionnaire, the results of the first were presented as a form of
comprehensive controlled feedback, giving the respondents an opportunity
to re-evaluate their original answers. This interactive process enabled
clarification of issues, identification of areas of agreement or
disagreement, and a determination of priorities.
Data reduction employed either measures of central
tendency, or rank order for selection of preferred items. Means and
standard deviations were derived from responses to Likert-scale items,
medians and inter-quartile ranges for questions involving the ranking of
items. The means gave the relative weighting of the responses. The medians
gave the relative preference for individual items. Measures of dispersion
gave an indication of consensus; the smaller the dispersion, the greater
the consensus (Wedley, 1980). Analysis of open questions and general
comments utilized subjective assessment of the underlying themes. A
cluster analysis and frequency count of issues noted within these comments
Results and discussion
Defining CRM for single-pilot operations
The development of an acceptable definition is a primary
step in developing a common understanding of the critical concepts and
providing a CRM training needs analysis for GA. The findings from the
first questionnaire (Qnr 1) indicated that "decision making" should be
included. This was also reflected in the BASI (1996b) conclusion that
inadequate decision making contributed to a large portion of accidents in
GA. The "decision making" concept was incorporated into the Lauber (1984)
definition of CRM forming a hybrid which emerged as the overwhelming panel
choice. CRM for single-pilot operations was defined as:
"optimizing the pilot’s decision making process,
through the effective management of all available resources,
information, equipment and people, to achieve safe and efficient flight
This statement links safety with efficiency raising the
concept of "affordable safety". Proponents within the industry and
community at large are divided on whether economic factors should be a
consideration in determining an acceptable level of safety. The realities
in GA are such that without efficient operations, economic viability may
be compromised. Thus, some marginal operators may be tempted to reduce
expenditure on training, crewing, maintenance, and other safety related
items in an attempt to maintain an acceptable level of profitability.
An alternative label for single-pilot CRM
Single-pilots may have some difficulty reconciling the "crew" concept to
their situation, therefore a range of alternatives to the CRM label were
examined. "Flight Resource Management" emerged as the preferred title,
however there was only weak consensus on this choice. "Crew Resource
Management" was ranked sixth of a series of alternatives, with the phrase
"resource management" being common to all preferred options.
The Rationale for Single-pilot CRM Training
The traditional training focus in GA has been on the
technical aspects of flight and an individual pilot’s technical
performance. The less clearly defined criteria of resource management,
decision making and other human factor issues have only recently been
recognized as important indicators of overall pilot performance. The most
common factors to emerge from research conducted into GA accidents and
incidents, are those of poor judgement and decision making (BASI, 1996a).
Judgement can be viewed as a subset of decision making, with Jensen (1995)
defining aviation judgement as "the mental process used to formulate an
aviation decision". An intervention that improves these processes has the
potential to reduce the rate of accidents and incidents. The panel
concluded that the delivery of CRM training to single–pilots would result
in an improvement in their decision making processes, leading to an
overall reduction in the rate of accidents and incidents, and to an
improvement in the efficiency of flight operations. This finding was
consistent with a study by Diehl (1990) which found that judgement
training can lead to a significant reduction in aircrew error.
It was considered that the HF components of the current
ab initio and commercial pilot training syllabus did not fully
cover the required CRM concepts. A clear need for a form of additional CRM
training for the single-pilot was identified, to improve the safety and
efficiency of GA flight operations.
CRM training components
To develop a generic syllabus of training, a broad list
of syllabus items was compiled from the literature. The panel rated this
list on the "level of knowledge required" for individual items, and
suggested additional items. The highest rated item was "how to say no to
the boss and pax" (suggested by the panel in Qnr 1). This was followed by
"maintaining situation awareness", "impediments to good judgement", and
"pre-flight planning and decision making."
"How to say no" acknowledges the situation within GA,
where commercial pressures can place pilots in situations which encourage
the infringement of regulations, or reduction of the flight safety margin.
Pilots can believe that their employment may be jeopardized if they refuse
a request from an employer or passenger on the grounds of legality or a
reduced safety margin. Other highly rated items included "conflict
resolution" and "assertiveness", both important attributes in the ability
to refuse an unreasonable request.
The high rating of situation awareness, judgement and
decision making reflected the aim of single-pilot CRM training to optimize
these vital inputs to the aeronautical decision making process (Jensen,
Leadership items and those associated with group
processes received relatively low ratings, reflecting a differentiation
between multi-pilot and single-pilot CRM.
CRM principles reinforcement
Hayward (1995) stated that initial CRM training should be
regarded as an awareness phase. Continuing high quality reinforcement is
necessary to produce long-term attitudinal and behavioral changes. This
view was strongly supported. Reinforcement following initial training was
considered to be a positive way to maintain and enhance CRM skills and
Steps to develop a positive CRM culture were recommended
to inculcate the principles throughout the wider body of GA pilots,
reinforcing and complementing other modes of CRM training. It was
suggested that the aviation authorities, including the Civil Aviation
Safety Authority (CASA) and BASI, should play a leading role through:
- the activities of check airmen (ie. flying operations inspectors);
- the development of appropriate benchmarks for the selection and
testing of the authorized testing officers (ATOs); and
- the inclusion of pro-CRM articles and other materials within their
extensive range of publications.
Mandating CRM training
There was consensus towards formal recurrent training
being mandated for commercial operations, but reservations were expressed
about the practicality and desirability of such an imposition on the
The term "mandating" tends to generate negative emotions
within GA, implying penalties for failure to comply. Without mandatory CRM
training, many organizations and individual pilots may elect to avoid the
cost and effort involved. However compulsion may generate a negative
attitude towards such training being imposed from "above" regardless of
circumstances, reducing its overall effectiveness. Compulsory CRM training
could become a "tick in the box" exercise, promoting surface, rather than
deep learning (Moore & Telfer, 1993). The need to internalize
standards was expressed by Edwards (1997), who wrote that pilots need to
"conscientiously train themselves…to ensure they are as prepared for each
flight as they can be, and for all involved in managing flying to conform
to a code of responsible behavior for its own sake, not because it’s the
law" (p. 9).
It was noted that the requirement for mandatory training
and the setting of a minimum level of proficiency could be viewed as two
separate issues. Mandating a training requirement does not necessarily
require an associated mandatory assessment process. The requirement to
assess a training programs’ effectiveness may be achieved through a
broader evaluation than "merely" evaluating an individual pilot’s
performance. For example, the success of a CRM training program across the
GA industry should be reflected in a reduction in the rate of incidents
and accidents, where poor decision making and judgement were contributing
Evaluation of CRM Competency
The panel supported the proposition for a minimum
standard of CRM competency, however it strongly advocated that the
training outcome should not be evaluated on a pass/fail basis. This
dichotomy reflects a very difficult issue with lack of consensus
previously noted elsewhere (Birnbach & Longridge, 1993). While the
formal assessment of a theory exam is usually a straight forward
procedure, the assessment of CRM competency evaluates behavior, attitudes
and decision making skills; all highly subjective dimensions of human
performance. CRM competency must be set against clearly prescribed
criteria, and assessed by an evaluator with a commensurate level of skill
in the performance and evaluation of CRM competencies. CRM training does
not lend itself easily to either standardization or regulation (Hayward,
There was little agreement for CRM competency criteria
which reflected the highly subjective nature of CRM performance, and the
difficulty its evaluation may present.
The findings of this study supported the introduction of
a form of CRM training into GA directed primarily at optimizing the
single-pilot’s decision making processes to increase flight safety, and
improve the efficiency of flight operations.
The choice of an appropriate label for single-pilot CRM
will be important for the face validity of this construct. Crew Resource
Management is not appropriate to describe the resource management training
concept for the single-pilot. The word "crew" has a clear association with
multi-pilot operations and includes elements distinct from a single-pilot
The findings indicated that some form of CRM training
should be mandated throughout GA, however, if a program is perceived to be
too costly or difficult, it is liable to meet with significant resistance
from within the industry.
Evaluation was deemed to be the most difficult issue to
address, particularly the establishment of criteria on which a valid
evaluation process could be based. There was little support for the direct
evaluation of an individual pilot, especially on a pass/fail basis.
Evaluation of the efficacy of CRM training may be more achievable through
indirect methods, such as the development of GA industry markers.
Effective CRM training should be reflected in a reduction in the rate of
accidents and incidents, especially those with a judgmental or
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