Simulator training alone not enough, experts warn

 - September 20, 2007, 7:42 AM

Human error is a contributing factor in 60 to 80 percent of all air incidents and accidents, according to FAA statistics. Advisory Circular 120-51E states that many “problems encountered by flight crews have very little to do with the technical aspects of operating in a multi-person cockpit. Instead, problems are associated with poor group decision-making, ineffective communication, inadequate leadership and poor task or resource management.” The facts also show that relatively few corporate flight departments routinely address issues such as human factors and crew resource management (CRM).

Steve Hopkins, chief instructor and senior partner at Century CRM (Booth No. 1217), a pilot-oriented resource management training provider, said part of the problem stems from the fact that most training programs have been developed using outdated data. “Historically, back in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, aircraft weren’t as reliable as they are today,” he said. “If the engine or equipment failed, you needed to know what to do.” As technology advanced, however, hardware failures declined. Unfortunately, “the human factors have stayed pretty constant. People still make the same stupid mistakes,” he said.

In 1987, for example, a Delta Airlines captain inadvertently shut down two engines after takeoff from LAX. Had it not been for the first officer, who managed to restart the engines 500 feet above the Pacific Ocean, the event could have been catastrophic, Hopkins said.

“For most operators, 100 percent of their training budget is focused on the simulator, which addresses 20 percent of the accidents,” said Gary Rower, founder of Century CRM. “The human factors, which cause 80 percent of the accidents, go unaddressed. That’s where our training comes in.”

Interactive Curriculum
The Century CRM training program is different in that it doesn’t follow standard Part 121 or military CRM curriculums, Rower said. “We started with a clean slate and started doing our research,” he explained. “We found that the European programs are far more advanced and far more demanding than what is presently required by the FAA. So we took what we thought was the best of each program, focusing on the FAA, Transport Canada and the CAA in the UK, and developed a curriculum based on that broad base of sources of information.”

Century CRM offers four classes, each lasting about two days. The classes include initial CRM, recurrent CRM, single-pilot resource management and an NBAA-certified leadership professional development program (PDP) for managers.

Each class is designed to be user friendly and interactive, Hopkins said. Rower, Hopkins and Walter “Carl” Carmichael, director of marketing and a senior partner, use real-world examples to address subjects such as time management, communications, decision-making, fatigue, stress factors and situational awareness.
“We’ve had well over 100 years of flying experience among the three of us,” Hopkins said. “We use personal examples, things we’ve heard from friends and things we’ve seen happen during our careers to punctuate [these topics].” He added, “We’ll throw out a specific situation and then solicit from the group, ‘What would you do here? What could you have done? What were the problems that occurred because of what somebody actually did?’ We try to keep it very interactive, so there’s a discussion going and it’s not just a lecture series.”

Rower and Hopkins are former U.S. Air Force F-16 pilots/flight examiners and certified FAA flight instructors, and Carmichael is a former Air Force T-38 master instructor pilot and certified FAA ground instructor. Rower and Carmichael also flew for Delta Airlines for more than 20 years each, and Hopkins flew for Delta for 16 years.

“If we haven’t done it, we know someone who has,” Hopkins said. In addition to personal experiences, Hopkins said they also discuss accidents such as the 1995 Boeing 757 crash near Cali, Colombia, in which the pilots descended into mountainous terrain after an FMS programming error. While a flaw in the FMS design played a role, the crash was also partly attributed to the crew’s lack of situational awareness.

According to Hopkins, the crew selected the wrong fix in the FMS when given the option of selecting between numerous fixes and navaids in South America with similar names. Had they prepared in advance, the crew would have known there was more than one fix starting with the same letter, and they would have selected the correct one. Furthermore, Hopkins said, better situational awareness would have made them realize an error had been made.

Hopkins explained that in the CRM class, he generally relays the events leading up to the Cali crash, and then asks the class members what they would have done in a similar situation. “There is no right or wrong answer,” he said, but the idea is to present the class with a problem and let them decide what the best option would be under the given circumstances.

The single-pilot resource management course is the only such training program in the U.S., according to Rower. Carmichael explained that the topics are the same as those in the multi-crew CRM course, just altered for the single pilot. The pilot’s team changes in a single-pilot cockpit, for instance. “You’re not building a team with the person sitting next to you, but you still have a huge team,” said Hopkins. “You’ve got ATC and maintenance people. Maybe your passenger is a part of your team. It’s not just you sitting in a cockpit. You do have resources.”

The leadership PDP course is geared toward maintenance department heads, dispatchers, flight operations directors and chief pilots. “We teach the pilots and line operators about crew resource management, but unless the entire management side of the house also embraces it, it doesn’t do much good,” Hopkins said. A pilot will be more willing to make a good decision, like canceling a flight due to inclement weather, if he or she knows that management will support that decision, he said.

Century CRM classes also stress the importance of pre-flight planning. “It’s the planning ahead of time, whether it’s a single pilot or a crew, that really lays the foundation for the rest of the flight,” Rower said. “That planning allows the crew or the individual to develop situational awareness along the route, to have choices. We teach them about decision-making, but if they don’t have choices, then there is no decision to be made.” He added, “Having alternatives and choices based on what you’ve done before you even walked to the airplane really makes the difference as to whether or not it’s a successful flight, or if we end up reading about it on the NTSB reports.”

Century CRM is the only stand-alone CRM training program certified by the FAA, Rower said, and each course meets FAA requirements for Part 121, Part 91, fractional operators, Part 135 operators who train under 121 requirements and standard 135 operations.

“There’s no requirement for 135 operators to have CRM training,” said Hopkins “[but] when we teach a course to a Part 135 or corporate operator, we’re actually giving them an FAA certificate for initial or recurrent CRM.”

Hopkins added, however, that the NTSB has placed mandatory CRM training for Part 135 operators on its Most Wanted Safety list, and NATA Air Charter Safety Foundation members have been working to draft the mandate. “Beyond a doubt, [mandatory CRM training] is coming for the Part 135 world,” he said.

Rower, Hopkins and Carmichael support the inclusion of CRM training in Part 135 operations requirements and hope to work with NATA and the FAA in drafting the mandate.

“The three of us have a lot of experience in the cockpit,” Carmichael said. “For us, teaching is an opportunity to pass on some experiences to the new generation of aviators, skills that make their whole operation safer.”