A Methodology for Enhancing Crew Resource Management Training

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In the 1970s, hundreds of airline passengers on routine, scheduled flights lost their lives because each of three aircrews committed an error. In one incident, the crew failed to take fuel levels into consideration during problem solving; in the second incident, the crew did not monitor the altitude; and in the third incident, the crew misinterpreted an air traffic control communication. The crew members who committed the errors had tens of thousands of hours of flight experience, yet the errors committed should have been avoided by even the most inexperienced pilots. The crews were not members of a country in which standards of pilot training and certification were questionable, and each of these crews worked for a major air carrier.

Two of the crews were flying domestic operations within the United States. In both domestic accidents, the crew members committed the errors while responding to a potentially unsafe problem with the plane by taking extra time and care to troubleshoot or prepare (or both) for this unplanned circumstance. As a result of their lapses, their planes ended the flight in one case by crashing into a stand of trees in Oregon, and in the other case by crashing into the Florida Everglades. The third plane, on an international flight, had results so catastrophic that it sent shock waves throughout the world. This plane collided with another aircraft, immediately ending the lives of everyone aboard both planes.

After 20 years, the aviation industry is still challenged by a haunting question: Why is the number of take-offs not equal to the number of safe landings? In the past 20 years, it has been commonly acknowledged that almost 60% to 80% of aviation incidents and accidents were attributable to human error in the cockpit (Foushee, 1984). This recognition led a number of applied psychologists to suggest an intervention aimed at improving human performance and, in particular, teamwork in the cockpit. This intervention, commonly referred to as crew resource management (CRM) training, now has a long history of research and practice in the air carrier industry (Wiener, Kanki, & Helmreich, 1993).

On the military side, CRM training developments have also emerged. (The military labeled this team training intervention aircrew coordination training, but we will use the term CRM in this paper because it is most common in the airline industry and government regulatory agencies.) The U.S. Navy (in particular, the Marine Corps) enlisted the help of the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division about 10 years ago in improving the safety of its rotary wing fleet. Our response was to design and conduct a long-term program of research that began with theory building and moved into development of measures of performance, design of instruction, empirical testing, and evaluation. The purpose of this paper is to describe our efforts in this regard. To do this, we organized the presentation around the critical questions that have guided our research:

1. What is CRM, and, more specifically, what is CRM training?

2. Which theories provide a basis to develop CRM training?

3. Which skills underlie effective CRM?

4. Which instructional approaches and strategies are appropriate to impart CRM skills?

5. What evidence exists to support the effectiveness of CRM training?

We conclude with a presentation of our methodology for developing CRM training and a word about reciprocity between training science and practice.

What Is CRM and CRM Training?

The three accidents discussed in the previous section help illustrate a persistent threat to safe aviation: human error caused by inadequate coordination among team members. Although there were minor mechanical failures in two of the accidents, each occurred because of the crew's error. It is clear that the errors made in these accidents were not the result of inadequate technical training. …