Posted 6 years 181 days ago ago by Randy Mains
I’m going to give you a simple mental tool to keep you safe: Risk Resource Management (RRM). It’s a tool Chesley Sullenberger used for 14 years before he famously landed his Airbus A320 in the Hudson River. It’s also a tool he instructed his students to use when he taught crew resource management at US Airways. It’s a tool you can use in your helicopter to make better decisions, whether you’re flying single-pilot or multicrew.
HOW DID RRM COME ABOUT?
The short answer is: By necessity. From 1989 through 1994 US Airways suffered five fatal crashes in five years. The FAA gave the airline two choices: (1) Close your doors or (2) Set up an Advanced Qualification Program (AQP). They chose the latter.
An AQP is defined as “a flexible training qualification and evaluation program that permits an individual operator to design a program based on that operator’s specific needs and requirements.” Under the AQP, the FAA is authorized to approve significant departures from traditional requirements, subject to justification of an equivalent or better level of safety. For pass/fail purposes, pilots must demonstrate proficiency in scenarios that test both technical and crew resource management skills.
John Ross initially developed RRM for US Airways. “If the concept wasn’t simple I knew the pilots wouldn’t use it,” Ross observed. With that thought in mind, he created what he calls a “make-better-decisions card” pilots carry with them for quick reference. Ross said it was slow to catch on but when accepted it turned around US Airways’ terrible accident rate. Today, because of its success, RRM has been adopted by most major airlines.
WHAT IS RRM?
RRM is illustrated on the card in two parts. First, think of a target. The target is green in the middle with a yellow ring surrounding the green, and a red ring on the outside. Think of being in the green as where you want to be when there is no task loading. There’s no stress. If a pilot or his crew feel they’re slipping out of this green situation with increased tasking, thus creating potential loss of situational awareness, their situation can slip into the yellow cautionary range, which if unchecked could then possibly lead into the red—a true emergency. Visualize situational awareness as gradually shrinking down to tunnel vision with increased task loading.
Next think of the four letters ABCD: Assess the situation, Balance resources, Communicate what you see/don’t see, Do your action, then Debrief the results.
Even though RRM had been proven to work at US Airways for years, it took two years for pilots at Southwest Airlines (where Ross now teaches) to fully buy in to the concept. Today 60 percent of the grading in simulator evaluation is based on RRM. A pilot can fail a checkride if they do not demonstrate that they have a firm grasp of— and use—RRM. Ross explains, “What RRM does is teach pilots to say ‘No,’ thus breaking a link in an error chain forming.”
This mindset needs to be adopted in helicopter aviation. Think of HAI president Matt Zucarro’s message “Land the Damn Helicopter.” The RRM tool allows a pilot to make prudent decisions before he or she needs to “Land the Damn Helicopter.”
The AQP evaluates human factors. At US Airways they had CRM training but Ross wanted something beyond that. He needed a very simple process that could be used by pilots in normal operations and during time-critical decision-making situations. At first it was called threat and error management (TEM), which evolved into RRM. That’s when Ross came up with his ABCD, green/yellow/red idea.
Because Ross’s decision-making tool was simple, it worked. There wasn’t another major incident for 14 years, that is until Sullenberger’s aircraft hit birds and had two engines flame out. Ross attributes the successful outcome of that flight to the fact Sullenberger and his crew had been trained in RRM.
THE RRM PROCESS IN MORE DETAIL
Aircrews continually assess the color of their flights. Is it in the green, yellow (something’s changed), or red where there is the potential for error? Think of the RRM tool as a balancing act, where you’re striving to remain in the green and stay on top of the situation.
ASSESS RISK: Is it green, yellow, or red? Identify present risk, potential for future risk,
and the potential for decreased performance.
BALANCE RESOURCES: If a change has occurred, allocate resources to bring everyone (and the situation) back into the green. Assess what tools are at your disposal, tools such as SOPs, policies, procedures, checklists, automation, briefings, external resources, knowledge, skills, and techniques.
COMMUNICATE INTENTIONS: Under stress the brain begins to shut down, creating tunnel vision that reduces situational awareness. Communication patterns must change when going from green to yellow to red. In the yellow, communication has to be more direct. In the red, understanding can be totally nonexistent. One must use very direct slow speech. You might even have to reach over, put a hand on a shoulder and deliver your message: “Chris, go around.”
DO the action (or perhaps do nothing at all, also a conscious decision), then DEBRIEF the results. Were expectations met? What went well? What didn’t go well? What can be learned for the future? Debriefing improves future performance.
One should recognize when you or a team member is task saturated and not operating in the green. Know the difference between time-critical decisions and those decisions that are not time-critical. Also prioritize: Do the most important items first but keep flying the aircraft. It’s important to know that RRM is not always a linear ABCD process. Ross says it rarely is.
This simple RRM tool: Green, Yellow, Red, and ABCD should help you make decisions to remain in the green. Using RRM can bring you home safely, as it did on 15 January 2009 for Captain Chesley Sullenberger, his crew … and 155 passengers
About Randy: Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a
CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long
career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM
instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at