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The Impact of Crew Resource Management (CRM) on Aviation Safety

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Throughout the history of aviation, accidents have and will continue to occur. With the introduction of larger and more complex aircraft, the number of humans required to operate these complex machines has increased as well as, some say, the probability of human error. There are studies upon studies of aircraft accidents and incidents resulting from breakdowns in crew coordination and, more specifically, crew communication. These topics are the driving force behind crew resource management. This paper will attempt to present the concept of crew resource management (CRM) and its impact on aviation safety in modern commercial and military aviation.

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Cabin crew forms an important part of flight operation. They take the responsibility of the people aboard an aircraft. For a long time, cabin crews have been criticized for taking causal approach to aircraft safety leading to death of thousands of people. It is due to increased incidences of human error in aircraft accidents that led to development of Crew Resource Management (CRM) concept. Thanks to CRM, today’s flights and cabin crews are quite different from those of early days of commercial aviation. The captain in the aircraft was once taken to be the “God” during flight had his decisions and commands were not questioned. There was very little input from pilots because it was assumed that captain knows all and it would appear disrespectful to question the decision of the superior. This kind of relationship did not go well with civilian cockpits and the number of accidents which could be attributed to cabin crew errors increased. Airline accidents that were related to pilot errors claimed hundreds of lives and the knowledge of cabin crew on handling flights came to be questioned. For example in 1978, United 171 ran out of fuel flying over Portland and unfortunately, this was not noticed even by the cabin crew until it was too late. In 1982, Air Florida 90 failed to be properly de-iced and it crashed shortly after it had taken off from Washington. It was also revealed that all the standard operating procedures had been violated by the cabin crew. It’s a series of such accidents that could be attributed to human errors that led to implementation of Crew Resource Management in a bid to empower them with skills on how to handle flights. In 1980, United Airlines formally instituted a training program that came to be known as Crew Resource Management (CRM) which was aimed at equipping the whole cabin crew, including pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, dispatchers, and others with personal and interpersonal skill to handle flights with safety. CRM mainly emphasizes on the principles and concept of improving crew performance and flight safety. Although it has been criticized by some people in the sense that there has been accidents attributed to human errors despite its existence for more than three decades, it has generally been acknowledged that CRM cannot solve all the problems related to human errors but it goes an extra mile to equip pilots and cabin crew members with important safety measures they need to observe during a flight. It is a not a panacea of aircraft accidents but it can make a huge impact on mitigation human related aircraft accidents.

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Based on the evidence that CRM is effective, the International Civil Aviation Organization, a regulatory component of the United Nations, began requiring CRM programs for member countries. CRM also informed the development of maintenance resource management, an effort to improve teamwork among aircraft maintenance workers (Helmreich, R.L. (2004). The U.S. Air Force, among others, now uses MRM training programs to boost communication, effectiveness and safety among the crews that maintain and repair aircraft. The medical community is also responding to findings of human error and failures by adapting aviation's approach to crew coordination. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has developed a program called TeamSTEPPS to improve communication and teamwork skills among health care professionals, with the goal of improving patient health and safety. The program is being implemented nationwide via six medical schools that serve as regional training centers. Conceptually, TeamSTEPPS parallels CRM and crisis management (Flin, R. H. (1997). CRM training is also being used in air traffic control, firefighting and industrial settings, including offshore oil operations and nuclear power plants. The training helps workers in control rooms and emergency command centers avoid making operational errors that may lead to accidents.

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By and large, a pilot is not in a position to avoid duty when is fatigued, one should eat high protein foods coupled with a lot of water for it temporarily holds fatigue at bay, caffeinated beverages though moderate levels help in enhancing alertness and most of all making conversations with other crew members, making rounds and stretching is therapeutic enough to edge-off fatigue. But in a situation where a pilot may not feel confident in his ability to fly due to fatigue, regardless of the schedules, one should not fly. This is to avoid putting the lives of many people at jeopardy including the legacy or image of the company on the spot in the event of an accident.

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Cooper, G. E., White, M. D., & Lauber, J. K. (Eds). (1980). Resource management on the flightdeck: Proceedings of a NASA/industry workshop (NASA CP-2120). Moffett Field, CA: NASA-Ames Research Center.

Flin, R. H. (1997). Crew resource management for teams in the offshore oil industry. Team Performance Management, 3( 2), 121-129.

Helmreich, R.L. (2004). Managing threat and error to increase safety in medicine. In R. Dietrich & K. Jochum (Eds.), Teaming Up. Components of Safety under High Risk. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

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The Impact of Crew Resource Management (CRM) on Aviation Safety
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