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One Reader’s View on CRM

Posted 7 years 309 days ago ago by Randy Mains

I have a professional Facebook page that deals solely with crew resource management and helicopter safety issues.  I hope I don’t disappoint visitors to my page if they don’t see pictures of my breakfast, lunch, or dinner, my cat, dog or car or learn that I am in a departure lounge somewhere awaiting my flight home.  I ‘built’ my Facebook page for one purpose—as a tool to keep CRM and helicopter safety foremost in air crew member’s minds. 

As you might imagine, I often receive comments from pilots or air crew expressing their view about something I’ve posted that I think, many times, warrant sharing with others.  

A good example is a comment one pilot, (I’ll call him Bob) made after reading my article in the May/June 2016 issue of Rotorcraft Pro magazine where I describe the evolution of CRM, now in its sixth generation.  I made the argument that we in the helicopter industry should adopt CRM practices like the airlines have done over their 36 years since adopting it to successfully reduce their accident rate.  It struck me that this pilot’s comment about CRM may reflect the thinking of other helicopter pilots in our industry so for that reason I think his comments are something to highlight. Here is what Bob wrote in his message to me.  

“Randy, I hate to be contrary to your remark (well actually I am a contrary kind of guy and being contrary has kept me safe over 32 years of flying both military and commercial flying.) The helicopter world is a whole different animal. Helicopters don't have the luxury of landing once every 3 hours on a flight plan put together by a licensed dispatcher at a tower controlled field with about 600 acres of area cleared of obstructions.”

Here is my reply:

Bob, I couldn't agree more with what you say. In fact, when I was invited to be a keynote speaker at the Air Medical Transport Conference in Seattle in 2012 on the subject of CRM, I told the audience essentially the same thing. I said the airlines are in protected airspace from gate to the gate while we in the helicopter world are often in effect 'off road' which gives even more weight to my argument why we need CRM training so we can identify the human factors that can 'hurt us' as has already been proven by the airlines and our military aviation. 

The very title, CRM, crew resource management, gives the false impression one must be operating on the flight deck of an airliner to use it. Not so. What CRM teaches us and what the airlines have learned over the years are the human factors that can cause us to make faulty decisions so that we can make prudent decisions, that is, know when we need to say 'no', and thus break a link in a possible error chain forming. 

I recently I will be speaking at the 2017 HAI HELI EXPO Helicopter Safety Challenge on the subject of CRM for the single pilot. The title being, "CRM is for Single Pilots. Really? Show me." In my one-hour presentation I will offer the attendees proven tools they can use to help them make decisions that will keep them safe, taken from lessons learned over the years from NASA studies, universities worldwide and the airlines. After giving them the tools, I will cite real-life scenarios, showing the audience short 4-5 minute video clips taken from the HEMS Digital Safety Stories and demonstrate how, if the pilot or crew had used proven CRM principles, an accident or incident would have been avoided. 

For example, you may have heard of the 9 Hazardous Attitudes to prudent decision-making or the 11 clues an error chain may be forming? CRM principles gives us the knowledge to know we may be entering dangerous territory, identify a threat by keeping our antennae up (vigilance) then break that link in the chain. Other than the term CRM I’d like to use the Southwest Airlines definition, Risk Resource Management because it sounds like something single pilots can use as well as multi-crews.  

What CRM is all about is using the tools to identify then break a link in an error chain forming. The Joint Helicopter Safety Team discovered through their studies of helicopter accidents that 84% of the helicopter accidents had an element of human error and in HEMS it's much higher, 94% according to an OSI (Opportunities for Safety Improvement) study by Dr. Ira Blumen out of the University of Chicago and his 40 professionals in the field involved with the study. One can see that if you can eliminate the human element (as the airlines have tried to do) we can lower our accident rate too. You've probably heard the old saying, “A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations requiring his superior skill.” What CRM and AMRM do is give the pilot the tools he or she can use to make the right judgment call so that they live to fly another day.

Line Training Captain and European-trained CRM Instructor at Heli Holland, Norman Meyer, weighed in on the conversation addressing Bob’s remarks.  Here is what Norman had to say which I thought was a very well-crafted observation.

Bob, I am proud to be an EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) certified CRMI now for 3 years and I have been an avid fan of the concept since I started flying (a misguided year of fixed wing before I saw the light and moved over to the helicopter fraternity). CRM is really a way to put numbers and scientific discoveries on what we always called "airmanship". In the old days, one either had or did not have airmanship. CRM gives us the tools to help people (not just pilots, mind you) develop their airmanship skills in a structured and logical manner. And as Randy Mains rightly observes, a solo pilot might benefit even more from applying those skills and theories, as he has to deal with threats and errors on his own.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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 [email protected]