Behavioural economists recognised a long time ago that the classical ‘homo economicus’, the rationale being upon which economic theories had been based, probably did not exist. Humans are frail, irrational thinkers subject to a range of biases. Equally, the image of a pilot as steely-eyed daredevil fighting wind and rain to get passengers safely to their destinations has also, possibly, had its day. Pilots are a subset of the population. Their entry into the industry is through a variety of routes, some of which are subject to rigorous selection while others are based simply on access to funding. It is also probably fair to say that there are different flavours of aviation around the world. For example, it was once the case that the bulk of commercial aviation occured w'ithin the USA. As a result, an approach to the industry developed inside the continental United States that reflected a degree of introspection arising from having enough to worry about on your owrn doorstep. Australian aviation is much like that in the United States and both countries can be characterised as large open spaces where air travel offers the easiest solution to the problem of distance. Road and rail networks are poorly developed. The first scheduled, commercial air route was from London to Paris, opened in 1919 and was a continuation of the wartime Royal Air Force route. Of course, England and France were separated by the English Channel, which represented an obstacle, but on mainland Europe, a dense network of road and rail communications made commercial aviation unviable internally. Instead, effort was put into the development of long-haul routes to connect with the outposts of empires. The British pioneered routes through the Gulf to Singapore and on to Australasia, the Germans down to Southwest Africa, and the Spanish and Portuguese to South America. These different historical trajectories resulted in different structures within national aviation systems and, as result, different approaches to the selection, initial training and career development for commercial pilots. Today, an Australian pilot who has spent 5 years hauling cargo between outposts of population looks down on the European pilot w'ho, having completed an 18-month intensive training course, starts their first job as the first officer on a narrow-body jet for a major airline. And yet both systems work and one is no more safe than the other.
Just as pilots differ in their training and background, so do they show all of the foibles and flaws we can see in the average human being. Unfortunately, when you read accident and incident reports, there seems to be an assumption that pilots are a cross between a brain surgeon and a NASA astronaut. Of course, some pilots might identify with that image - and there are, indeed, very many very capable people flying aircraft - but the fact remains that pilots are humans. This book will make use of public domain reports of events but, hopefully, will try to position any analysis in the realms of what was achievable rather than setting impossible expectations.
One current trend in aviation training is a shift towards competency-based training. The idea of ‘competency-based’ anything is that after training you can be expected to be able to actually do something. Too much of CRM training, historically, has been abstract and divorced from the job of being an airline pilot. In this book, I will look at performance through a competence paradigm and, so, the focus will be on what people do to fly aircraft safely. A competence framework usually includes skills and statements of underpinning knowledge. In fact, the emphasis in this book is making sense of action. I draw on academic theory where it throws light on the why things happened. I will attempt to answer the question of why ‘homo aeronautics’ acted as they did rather than as how some outside observer felt they should have acted. This is not an aviation psychology textbook. This will not be a comprehensive review of current research as it relates to human performance in flight. It is more an ecological examination of pilots at work. Although I started off trying to write a text book, what I now offer is a reflection on safe aviation based on more than 40 years of observing pilots at work.
The aim of this book is to explore what a competence-based approach to training might look like by, first, exploring how the aviation system works and, then, considering the implications for course design. The book is in five parts. First I will introduce the idea of competence, systems and safety. I review some of the key models of accident causation to see how they might inform decisions about training. I then look at more recent, systems-based, approaches. Here I discuss the broader systems concepts I will be drawing on. The second part will look at how individuals do work. I look at how pilots make sense of the world and then make decisions about action. My thesis is that pilot behaviour is goal-directed and involves making decisions about the interventions needed to achieve those goals. I also look at stress and fatigue as inhibitors. The third section looks at the collaborative nature of aviation. In developing my systems concept, I highlight the need to act across interfaces, be they between humans and technology or simply between humans. Interface management is the essence of collaboration. I also look at communication as the driving force of a system. The fourth section looks at functions at the level of the organisation and then at agencies like regulators and investigators. My purpose here is to look at, first, the challenges faced by actors at this level but, more important, how legitimate decisions at these levels can result in unintended consequences. I am interested in cross-scale interactions: how a decision by an authority about a manufacturer’s design solution can create the context for failure at the level of an individual crew. Finally, I offer some thoughts on training and assessing competence. It is an attempt to recast CRM training in the light of my analysis.
This book, then, is about how systems are configured to meet operational goals and how people then perform within those systems. In other words, it is about people doing work. The system is, in part, the context of work but can also mean the combination of technologies that form the tools needed to do that work. So, from the start, we see that we need to explore issues at two levels: the level of the organisation and of the operator. It makes no sense to look at why people do things wrong if we do not also look at the context in which erroneous actions take place. In order to understand how people function in systems of production, we also need to understand how people construct acceptable, rational ‘realities’ that allow them to deliver a performance in uncertain, ambiguous circumstances.
While formalised training to control the technology of aviation has existed for almost 90 years, the need to train humans to work with one another while using the technology was only really appreciated about 25 years ago. To make matters worse, although the training needed to control an aircraft and manipulate its systems is relatively simple to analyse and translate into training courses, the fuzzy behaviours demonstrated by humans working in groups is less readily broken down into convenient training modules. As a result, what we call ‘CRM’ is an amorphous collection of social skills, not necessarily clearly understood by all involved in aviation and definitely not dealt with very effectively in training.
That said, what do we mean by CRM? The first definition, offered after crew communication was cited in an accident report for the first time, refers to crews making full use of all available resources. As a definition, it establishes an unattainable ideal. Crews cannot possibly know all the resources available to them and lack the mental processing power needed to manipulate the information implicit in the definition in order to achieve an optimum solution to a problem. In many ways, the aim of this book is to answer the question that arises: w'hy not?
CRM has also had to contend with human factors as an overlapping domain. Human factors was initially a subset of engineering that dealt with ergonomic design of devices but, over time, has expanded to include the ways in which humans interact with systems. The failure of CRM to deliver a demonstrable return on investment, especially in terms of an incremental improvement in aviation safety, has driven some to seek newer and better definitions. We are now supposedly in the era of sixth- generation CRM, the realm of error management. We will explore some of these issues more in the later chapters but, for now, it is probably enough to say that CRM seeks to optimise the performance of human operators in a complex system, namely, aviation.
The target audience for this book is, primarily, student pilots in training. I touch on almost all of the subjects covered in a ground school human performance and limitations course but, in many case, not to the depth needed to pass an MCOQ, I am afraid. What I hope the book will do is stimulate an interest in a fascinating subject that should be of direct personal interest to pilots once they get out of ground school. I hope that the book will bring a sufficiently different perspective to also be of interest to the wider aviation community. Because the focus is on the way people do work, the principles are equally applicable to cabin crew, maintenance, АТС and so on.
I have often said that the biggest mistake made in the history of CRM was to call it crew resource management. Even though the ‘C has shifted from ‘cockpit’ to ‘crew’ and even ‘company’, the debate still misses the point. As I hope will become clear, the issue is one of people doing work. How many people are engaged in the task at any specific time is simply an issue of nomenclature. The problems we need to address remain the same no matter how many actors are involved in fouling things up.