Crew Resource Management

Co-pilot Checklist

Ah, if only it was that easy! (Supposedly this belongs to aviationhumour.net but I don't really know the original source.)

Joining an airline as a cadet involves many things and one of them is a Crew Resource Management course.  The purpose of a CRM course is to improve communication, decision making and safety in the flight deck among other things such as managing stress and fatigue.  I’ve seen the above picture a couple of times during my training now and it’s a dig at how captains supposedly saw co-pilots (in times past).  CRM is aimed at ensuring this is not the case in the modern flight deck.

Despite all the improvements in aircraft, navigation and air traffic control technology, the largest cause of accidents remains human error.  The primary causes of these accidents are inadequate communication, deviation from Standard Operating Procedures and errors in maintenance.  CRM is a vital skill to ensure these causes become less and less frequent.  We discussed a number of incidents throughout the day that displayed how a number of factors had combined to produce a serious incident that could have been avoided had each crew member communicated properly and essentially just watched the other pilots back.

One of the cases I found most interesting was a flight that ended with an emergency landing at Birmingham airport in 2006.  The Boeing 737 departed from Belgium and on arrival at London Stanstead airport was unable to land due to weather conditions deteriorating below minimum requirements.  The crew put the aircraft into a hold for 30 minutes to see if the weather improved and then diverted to East Midlands airport.  The weather conditions in East Midlands required the crew to make a low visibility approach to Runway 27.  At approximately 500 feet above the ground, the crew were passed a message by ATC which stated that the company (operating the aircraft) would like the crew to divert to Liverpool.

The commander of the aircraft accidentally disconnected both autopilots while attempting to reply to the message from air traffic control.  He attempted to re-engage the autopilot in order to continue the approach.  The aircraft diverged to the left of the runway centreline and developed a high rate of descent.  The commander commenced a go-around but was too late to prevent the aircraft contacting the grass which caused the right main landing gear to break off.  Fortunately the aircraft became airborne and diverted to Birmingham where a successful emergency landing was made.  In this case, the chain of events that lead up to the accident did not cause a loss of life but in many cases they do.

It’s incidents like these that cause me to say ‘what if?’  What if ATC had decided not to pass the message?  What if the crew had ignored it, landed and then asked questions?  What if the captain hadn’t hit the disconnect button?  What if the co-pilot had called for a go-around?  An awful lot of trouble could have been avoided.  CRM courses are to try and ensure things like this don’t happen by ensuring each pilot is an active team member.  Things like this really shouldn’t happen but if it can happen to the crew involved, it can happen to anyone.

For a better understanding of this incident see the following reports from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch: here and here.

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