Crew Resource Management

Airlines · 6 min read · Jul 21, 2022
crew resource management

For about 35 years, a method known as Crew Resource Management (CRM) has been used for the training of pilots with an aim to enable them for safer operations during flights. The course is based on providing non technical skills required for operating an aircraft. It was initiated after an analysis of accidents that occurred due to lack of non technical skills in personnel.

Non-technical knowledge

The pilots were unaware of technical complexities as their training was incapable of making them understand how to handle the advancements in aerospace technology. Non-technical training programs became a necessity for survival as the ratio of accidents increased parallel to the increase in aircraft complexity.

The basic reason behind all these incidents was considered to involve a lack of cognitive and interpersonal skills along with poor team coordination which spread an awareness of the importance of crew member interactions.

It was then that the air force as well as commercial aviation and aerospace organizations decided to focus on crew coordination and decision making therefore it became an integral part of various departments such as FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and NASA.

Pilots and a flight attendant in the cockpit of a plane.

NASA study: interpersonal communications

In a study conducted by NASA in 1979, the causes of accidents were examined which were not associated with any structural or technical issues within aircrafts but rather with human factors and interactions. The results of the study were shocking as the statistics showed that approximately 70% of the accidents related to air transport were caused by inadequate leadership and decision making skills.

The statistics obtained were alarming and therefore the aviation authorities moved forward for the development and implementation of various training courses for enabling pilots and air crew members to develop better skills like making a rational decision in times of need, communicating with the vital crew, developing leadership qualities to lead from the front if necessary and to develop a suitable strategy for maintaining situational awareness by identifying and mitigating any possible threat.

So, what is crew resource management (CRM)?

The CRM principles were first initiated and implemented in the 1980s by the US carriers. After that, it spread across the world after Europe followed it.

The Crew Resource Management was initially named as Cockpit Resource Management however later it was changed as it was acknowledged that CRM training just does not concern the pilots only but also applies to the entire crew on board.

Crew Resource Management which started off as training simply developed for pilots now also involves the flight attendants, maintenance personnel, emergency responders, people working in air traffic control, and dispatchers along with the flight crews. The specialized course for management training is no longer confined to the aviation industry and flight crews as it had also been adopted by other fields like military, maritime, and healthcare industries.

Crew Resource Management is a broad program which involves multiple skills and an enormous amount of knowledge regarding problem solving and decision making along with situational awareness and communication. An encountered problem can never be solved rationally without proper teamwork therefore this program helps to develop cognitive skills and a discipline of working within a team.

A simple definition of CRM could be stated as a management system which allows an optimal use of all available resources within an environment involving people, methods or procedures and equipment with an aim to operate flights with safety. The crew resource management as discussed previously does not concern with the technical abilities of any crew member rather it is focused on the cognitive abilities and interpersonal skills which are required for a safe operation of an aircraft.

The cognitive skills of a crew member would allow them to gain knowledge regarding any situation and process it with an aim to take proper decision for solving a problem whereas the interpersonal skills would help them build any activity associated with teamwork like communication and behavior.

A flight simulator used for flight crew training.

What does crew resource management training cover?

Within the aviation industry, CRM training covers various topics which help to improve communication, behavior, judgment, decision making, teamwork abilities like cockpit conversation and standard operating procedures. The suggested methods by FAA often involve classroom training based on making students read, take lectures, watch relevant role plays and analyze related case studies to enhance their situational awareness capabilities. However, such training can nowadays be done online via various virtual classrooms or even pre-recorded courses.

Instead of implementing strict regulations for trainees, various aviation regulatory agencies opt for a flexible strategy where they rather suggest the topics and methods for CRM training. The examples of some agencies include Civil Aviation Authority and International Civil Aviation Organization. When it comes to training schedule, the length varies in accordance with the training sessions.

How long does CRM training usually last?

For initial training, the session lasts for about 3 days whereas for refresher training, the session might last from hours to a day. Refresher training does not cover all topics and is actually a small part of the long training session which has to come. As the non-technical part also overlaps with the technical skills therefore during the refresher training, various technical aspects are also covered. An avoidance to apply strict regulation by organizations is due to the fact that aviation authorities are quite flexible when it comes to their policies and therefore they need to build a program that would fit with them accordingly. 

Is there any type of evaluation in CRM training?

As far as the evaluation of an enrolled CRM trainee is concerned, the first two Kirkpatrick’s levels of assessment are used. It consists of a model based on 4 levels which shows and evaluates the training of the personnel. However the levels used for CRM evaluation include the first level where the attitude of an individual towards the values and concepts of training are observed whereas the second level involves the various test practices to evaluate their acquired knowledge.

Various job related simulations are also used to for assessment like Line Operational Simulations. It helps to assess the behavior of a trainee along with their knowledge and how they would react and respond within a working environment. However, the LOS mechanism does not usually represent the actual behavior of an individual which they would represent in a working environment or real operational setting therefore they are framed somewhere between the Level 2 and 3 of Kirkpatrick’s (1976) framework.

Moreover, the LOS assessment must be evaluated by a senior pilot during an actual flight operation. A range of tools have been developed like NOTECHS and CMAQ for the evaluation and assessment of crew members.

The former was developed by European air carriers whereas the later is a questionnaire built to observe the attitude of flight crew members towards the training program itself. The questionnaire comprises of a scale of 25 items which are used to measure the attitude of the personnel with various conceptual or empirical levels of CRM training. It helps in providing an evaluation of trainees by comparing the pre training and post training attitudes whereas it also identifies any topics of the program which needs any amendments.

A flight attendant going through mandatory operational procedures checklist.

Crew resource management: conclusion

Crew Resource Management program previously known as the Cockpit Resource Management is a course for enabling not just the pilots but the entire crew to develop necessary non technical skills. These skills include decision making abilities, communication, situational awareness, team performance and an ability to develop and implement appropriate strategies.

The training may last from a few hours to three days depending upon the type of session and the trainees are evaluated on the basis of first two levels of Kirkpatrick’s (1976) framework. Different tools like NOTECHS adopted by the European Aviation Authority and CMAQ questionnaire are used for crew assessment. The assessment is although performed within the training program but still requires an actual operational flight for realistic observations and results which must be augmented by a senior officer.


Does CRM only concern the aviation authorities?

CRM does not only involve the aviation industry as other fields like maritime industry, healthcare and military also adopt this program into their training for enabling their trainees for better situation handling in order to promote safety.

Does CRM only polish non-technical skills?

A CRM program also involves teaching a bunch of technical topics to their trainees as without it they would not be able to make a rational decision for any situation by balancing all the pros and cons of available alternates.

Do CRM programs and CRM concepts only integrate and train the flight crew members?

CRM programs and CRM concepts are available to train not just the flight crew members and flight engineers but also the flight attendants, maintenance personnel, air traffic controllers, and dispatchers as their collective team performance is responsible for a flight.

Is Cockpit Resource Management different from Crew Resource Management?

The answer is no. The reason is that CRM was initially named as Cockpit Resource Management but later on was changed to Crew Resource Management as it is not confined to the pilots only.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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