We used to start our five day CRM (Crew Resource Management) courses with a stark (and some thought provocative) statement. “71% of airline hull losses are caused by human factors” Perhaps a little confrontational given the audience, but it certainly grabbed everyone’s attention. When looked at a little more closely though, the truth was and to an extent still is, pretty ghastly.
The players in our Industry have an eye on the phenomenal growth being experienced at the moment, more to the point, the likely effect of that growth on safety and the statistics. None more so than Boeing and Airbus; they dislike seeing their products starring on the 6 o’clock news.
That gaze has now settled on the East and the frantic expansion out there. One aviation consultant I talk to has been looking hard on behalf of a ‘major manufacturer’ for experienced pilot managers to join emergent carriers. They are seen as being vital in establishing and maintaining a solid safety culture and directing the safe the growth of the new airline. Funnily enough they seem to be a little thin on the ground…
Established carriers around the world have invested heavily in the fight to maintain high levels of flight safety; a constant battle against the incidents and ultimately accidents that cost lives and erode public confidence in air travel. The road to this point has been long, bloody and hard and looking ahead, the effort is likely to last some time – like forever.
The question hanging out there, another ‘elephant in the room’ is – will the ‘emergent’ carriers join in? Will the new start airlines, scrabbling for their place at the table initiate the positive steps that are needed to embed the kind of culture we are talking about here. The aviators arriving to take their seats may well have had the required training, but what about the leadership and the vision necessary to set the culture? Do the legislators fully understand how important an effective HF training program and culture is to air safety?
Changing the way we think and act in concert with our colleagues is an internal act, in theory it could be almost nil cost. The trouble is, printing a manual or issuing an edict doesn’t get the baby bathed. An effective program is anything but cheap; it takes pilots off-line both to present the course (few pilots will accept a message of this nature from someone who doesn’t fly) and to receive it. This is the last thing any rapidly growing organization needs and it introduces the likelihood that it may be bumped on the back burner to await less trying times. Hence the concern.
The growth of HF training over the last fifteen years, and the way it has been integrated into simulator and line training has been refreshing. Taken from the beginning, anyone working towards a professional pilots license will come across human factors modules within the syllabus, they are the regulators response to a general shift attitude within the industry and really only a primer for further training that arrives when the fledgling transport pilot joins his new company. Flying for the airlines, certainly for the majors East and West immerses you in the effort to better understand the man in the machine.
Measuring the effectiveness of HF training isn’t easy as the game embraces the artful alignment of attitudes and the tutoring of behavior. How do you quantify the relative safety of a working environment and the attitude of ‘operatives’? But the consensus view is that it has worked well, the fight deck workspace has become less tolerant of undesirable pilot characteristics. Ego, hubris, jealousy, lack of consideration and plain bad manners are now generally recognized as inappropriate and unacceptable on a modern flight deck. Equally, owning errors, positive acknowledgment of an error ‘spot’ or a ‘catch’ and the complimenting of constructive behavior across the cockpit divide are now generally regarded as strengths, not weaknesses.
The proof of the pudding they say is in the eating, on the odd occasion where someone slips and displays their darker side, that behavior becomes the elephant in the room and the guys in the situation know where the company policy and the correct path lies. That knowledge in itself can prompt a correction, an apology or a change in behavior which may well produce a change in atmosphere and a safer, more professional environment. Relief all round, forgiveness and perhaps a reflective debrief with a beer at the end of it.
Standby for a cliche! ‘The price of safety is eternal vigilance.’
Here comes another – ‘If you think safety is expensive, try an accident.’
Yes, cliches for some; a new line on the truth for others less familiar.
Let’s take this to the line operation and apply it to a single situation that can easily be experienced out there. As confirmed by the statistics, rushed or unstable approaches have enormous potential to develop into accidents. It takes early recognition and intervention to correct an unstable approach. It also takes a measure of courage and confidence, to go-around when it feels like you have boobed or failed in some way when you believe that you might just be able to keep the cat in the bag and recover the situation. The pain is relieved by a company ‘nil jeopardy’ policy for such decisions. Full backing of your company policy of active encouragement to do the right thing defines the safe, progressive airline and delivers more often than not the safe response to the challenge.
How else can we stop a transport jet crossing the threshold to land at twice the calculated threshold speed, landing then overrunning the runway bursting into flames killing people in the process. Easy to be wise after the event – sure, but a call of “Go Around” by either pilot would have broken the spell and saved the day. Air France in Toronto seem to have had a similar incident, they were a good deal more fortunate with their outcome. Solid HF training and company policy empower people to make the right call.
Does this sound like a Westerner preaching smugly at the East? I hope not as the record would leave me standing naked at the lectern. It was a US carrier that first commissioned research into Human Factors training for its pilots after a string of incidents and a couple of major accidents.
BEA had an accident with a Trident in 1972 where human factors were considered to be contributory, you may not find them mentioned by name as HF was largely unacknowledged in those days, but those pilots contemporary to the disaster know are well aware of them; they killed everyone on board.
No, it has been freely admitted (that 71% again) that we are all in this together and we have a single prize worth fighting for, even if the battle upsets a few of us on the way.
No one, whatever their background is immune, there but for the grace of our God go us all. But in the absence of divine intervention there are tools available to us out there. They are in our head – they just need sharpening!