As aviation reporting programs continue to expand as a key means to elevate safety, so too has the need for positive cultures to ensure the success of such programs, according to speakers at the 2022 Air Charter Safety Foundation Safety Symposium this week in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Kimberly Perkins, a Gulfstream G650 captain and industry researcher, highlighted her findings from surveys that underscored the importance of culture in the flight deck and the larger organization. Surveys found when there is a positive synergy in the flight deck, pilots feel more valued and willing to ask for help or share mistakes, Perkins said. Conversely, they found pilots are about 50 percent less likely to share information when they do not get along.
Notably, 93 percent of first officers surveyed said they sometimes or always feel compelled to adapt to the style established by the captain. Further, 75 percent said they have been hesitant in speaking up to share safety concerns because of the culture in the flight deck and 57 percent felt silenced after bringing up such a concern. “We know captains or PICs play a very large role in establishing a microculture in the flight deck,” Perkins said.
The FAA has adopted and updated crew resource management training (CRM) guidelines over the past 18 years, but 51 percent of survey respondents said their CRM training did not incorporate recommendations for sensitivity towards others or adapting leadership styles to others’ needs. Respondents, however, overwhelmingly agreed on a need to focus on culture, Perkins said.
She further pointed out that safety management systems (SMS)—which are an upcoming requirement for Part 135 operators—call for the promotion, monitoring, and adjustment of a safety culture. “We need psychological safety for this,” Perkins said. “If people don’t feel like they’re a valued team member, if they don't feel comfortable speaking up…they're not going be able to ask for help. They're not going to be able to admit their mistakes. They're not going to be as likely to share safety concerns.”
Perkins questioned whether organizations offer training not only to reduce human error but also to promote a positive safety culture. “I think we have a gap here.”
Meanwhile, Robert Joyce, director of aviation safety for safety symposium host Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, stressed the importance of having a positive safety culture to maintain an operation that has 1,200 to 1,500 flying students and a flight department that amasses upwards of 100,000 hours a year.
ERAU has achieved IS-BAO Stage 3 registration—in fact, it is coming up on a renewal audit beginning next week— and Joyce said SMS is an essential piece that involves everyone. He notes that discussing the components of SMS with students who are “still trying to figure out how to do laundry” can be challenging. “It’s just lost on them,” he said, but university instructors do take time to show the students how they contribute and are engaged with the university’s SMS.
Noting the multitude of safety reports his department sorts through every year, he said, “I'm very fortunate to be a safety director here at Embry-Riddle because, right from the president to the newest student, everybody buys into our safety culture.”
One of the goals of the university is to produce safety professionals so that when graduates begin their careers, “they know what an ASAP [aviation safety action program] is and they know what non-punitive reporting is. It's just a way of life for us. This is how we operate.”
He expressed the view that the university’s mission is to “make dreams come true.” Most flight students coming in have long dreamed of becoming a pilot. However, “when they have a pilot deviation or they roll into the grass or cross the hold short line and they file the report, they are completely traumatized by the situation. It's not because someone almost landed on top of them. They see that dream slipping away.”
Even in an accident situation, the student’s first questions are: “'Will I get hired by an airline. What do I say in the interview?’ They see their career going down the drain.” He said this underscores the need for positive communication. “I spend a lot of my day being a counselor,” he said. “And I let them talk.”
Joyce first works through those questions and builds an open line of communication before getting into the details of what happened or why it happened. “But we don't start the investigation that way because they are completely traumatized. So that’s how the passion for aviation shapes how we approach communication. That’s how you get to successful communication.”
He pointed to the so-called “Platinum Rule” and said “I am going to treat them the way they need to be treated at the moment. And then we’ll get their trust and get to the rest of that at that point.”