reducing "Crew-caused"
approach and landing

Pilot-in-charge Monitored Approach

Other "cultural" influences.  

While a lot of attention has been paid to "High PDI" as a safety problem in many cultures, Hofstede's research also points out that Americans are actually the most individualistic of all societies. CRM training is about changing attitudes, and any CRM-training solution to problems of "ineffective monitoring" by US pilots will have to work among extremely individualistic people. This may well not be applicable to other national cultures.

In fact, it is likely that it is exactly this characteristic that inhibits use of PicMA procedures, which could be a far more effective solution to this particular problem. Initial resistance to the PicMA concept seems to be most volubly expressed in the most individualistic societies.  

In 1997, Bob Helmreich noted "The challenge for CRM developers is to harmonise the training with local conditions and cultures", and in the 2010 textbook he acknowledged that "One of the factors we did not recognize in 1993 was the powerful influence of national culture on flight crew behaviors and the diverse approaches needed for delivery and acceptance of CRM programs in different cultures". In reality, this aspect of the CRM effort needs to 

  • reduce "individualism" and improve teamwork, in the culture of the most individualistic society;
  • create a more outspoken ethos in societies which (for a flight crew) seem to have too much respect for strong leaders and group consensus
  • balance these efforts in the majority of societies which have different combinations of characteristics

This is an astonishingly challenging task. It contains internal contradictions that probably underlie the fact that this problem is still a prominent contributory cause of accidents, and needing continual reinforcement by more CRM training.

In some respects emphasis on CRM as the sole "non-technology" solution is like a well-meaning effort to waterproof a building by throwing plaster at the walls, without recognising that in fact the underlying structure has big cracks in it. Experience seems to show that while much of the plaster sticks for a while, a lot washes off after each rain shower, and the water still gets through the cracks.

Manufacturers pilots' culture.

By definition, test pilots are those with "the right stuff".  They are the most, not the least, "competent of the competent". Their very job is to explore the aircraft's flight envelope and find out and write down how to get the maximum out of the aircraft in the safest possible way. The procedures they develop are aimed at minimising the possibility of pilots making errors in the first place. No test pilot when acting as PM is ever inhibited by authority gradient from speaking out loudly and clearly.

Similarly, manufacturers pilots involved in training the operators' own pilots are often the same test pilots. They have the objective of ensuring that every pilot they instruct demonstrate his or her individual competence at all phases of the flight. For this purpose it makes no sense to separate landing from approach, and when acting as PM there is again no possibility of the instructor being inhibited: their very job is to be critical and point out such errors.

In fact, their function is very similar to that described by Frank Tullo writing about airline training in the "pre-CRM" era:

"Pilots were judged using the same tried-and-true measures of military training: how well does the crewmember handle the aircraft, know the rules and performance data, and deal with contingencies. The primary focus of training was the elimination of errors, and the primary tool was the check ride, in which the crewmember passed or failed based on his or her individual performance. The check pilots (and his flight operations superiors') main task was to "wash out" those individuals who did not have the "right stuff" (to use the term made famous by author Tom Wolfe (1979)). The bottom line of training was to eliminate, as much as was humanly possible, all "human error" from the cockpit."

But in ordinary line operations, the function of the PM is to deal with the situation where, in a sense, those check pilots have failed: a pilot who can make a "human error" has not been eliminated, has now made an error and that must be corrected.

When considering how to react to a Captain's error, it must be difficult for senior test pilots or instructors to put themselves in the mental framework of a young First Officer who may be very inexperienced, concerned with job insecurity (according to 2014 EEC study almost 40% of airline pilots in their 20s have no direct employment contract ) and repayment of large training debts from low salaries.  

The manufacturers' role in providing SOPs.

Unfortunately, the way the SOPs are written in an aircraft manufacturer's manual as "PF" and "PM" may be a fundamental part of the problem, since it is open to interpretation as being more rigid than may be intended.  Boeing's position for example is that "the PM role is an active function that needs to be integrated into normal operations in such a way that effective intervention action results from monitoring. Many accidents happen with a senior pilot as PF, with young or inexperienced FOs unwilling or unable to get their message across. Inadequate attention is paid to cultural background and cockpit hierarchy, and the industry may not be doing as well with CRM as it would like to think."

That would seem to be an implicit endorsement of PicMA principles, and indeed reflects the manufacturers' involvement in for example the CFIT training aid's recommendation of it. Unfortunately, and in this single specific area, the manufacturer's own pilots' typical views may not give a reliable guide to how the SOP should be laid out.

Manufacturers' responsibilities.

Unfortunately, even if manufacturers officially endorse the concepts underlying "monitored approach" (PicMA) procedures, much resistance to such procedures comes from the fact that while the aircraft manufacturers operations manual gives excellent detailed advice on how to make the aircraft work, it's almost always written in terms of PF tasks and PNF tasks.

Many operators then adopt this verbatim, and automatically assume that by default, the manufacturer recommends that the PF should always be the Captain throughout the flight. Any attempt to introduce the idea of there being an alternative way to allocate PF/PNF duties is then met with a response that "if Mr. Boeing or Mr. Airbus thought that would work, that's what they would have said. The only safe way to operate is to follow the manufacturers' instructions as closely as possible."

Consequently if, as Boeing has said, the industry needs to "emphasise the PM role is an active function that needs to be integrated into normal operations in such a way that effective intervention action results from monitoring", manufacturers need to address this directly. 

The best way to do this may be to ensure that when the aircraft SOPs are written, the manufacturer avoids using the specific terms Captain and First Officer unless it is essential; writes it in terms of PF and PNF/PM as much as possible; and inserts an explicit statement that in normal line operations the PF role should be not assumed to be the highest priority task for the Captain in the crew as a whole throughout the flight.

The effect of "Cultural assumptions"

A  number of factors have led to a particular set of assumptions about how best to achieve effective monitoring. 

  • US and European manufacturers dominate the large airliner market
  • US and European thinking has dominated safety research
  • US and European safety concepts and rules tend to be copied by States and operators with more limited resources
  • CRM concepts first became formalised in the USA
  • countries such as the US which first adopted CRM tend to have good overall safety records

These factors have tended to lead to an assumption that only the most generally accepted US and European approach to resolving problems can have any effect - and this assumption can result in such extreme over-simplifications as the "ethnic theory of plane crashes".

But the individualistic pilot culture of "my flight, my controls" is probably strongest amongst "western" pilots and even more likely to be found among manufacturers' own pilots. This individualistic culture is going also to be the one most amenable to the idea that with sufficient focus on training, pilots can be "improved" enough to overcome problems of ineffective monitoring.

So while it might be a possible solution appropriate at that end of the cultural spectrum, it is even more important that manufacturers are able to stand back and look at the problem from a different standpoint. They have to consider whether, if these basic assumptions about CRM training have not yet led to the right set of results in the most receptive environment, it can ever do so in more culturally resistant groups.