reducing "Crew-caused"
approach and landing

Pilot-in-charge Monitored Approach

Change pilot attitudes - or pilot working methods?

The bottom line is that we still need to reduce the "cockpit caused" accident rate by a factor of 5 to 10.  Despite the many other benefits of CRM, now in its sixth generation and after 40 years, it seems that we cannot rely on improved training to change the personality and character of individual pilots sufficiently to eliminate these cockpit-caused accidents.

In the 2010 textbook Bob Helmreich 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". Radical thinking is indeed needed, and it is in the crew procedures area that the biggest, quickest and by far the lowest cost improvements can be made.

If cultural factors make it hard to overcome the high CCAG/poor monitoring effectiveness problems, would it not be better to find some way of changing the recommended methods of working to take advantage of those cultural strengths, rather than attempting to undermine them? However, this is also the area in which entrenched prejudices, driven party by individualistic preferences and partly by misleading subjective experience of risk, pose the biggest obstacles to achieving our improved flight safety objectives.

A different way of working.

A simple analogy of what we have done so far is with a bridge that functions perfectly well most of the time, but fails under the biggest modern loads.

In addition to CRM training, there needs to be a fresh look at the structure of how crew members work together, and adopting PicMA procedures could well provide a quick and inexpensive answer. 


Benefits in different cultures.

Changing from the traditional “PF/PM" procedures to a PicMA procedure has some subtle human factors benefits wherever pilots are on the "Good Boss"  to "Good Buddies" cultural spectrum.

"Good Boss" culture benefits.  

In strongly hierarchical cultures, PicMA takes advantage of pre-existing attitudes, instead of attempting to undermine them.

For the First Officer, it means he will now routinely fly the aircraft, but as “the boss’s right hand man” - not just when allowed to be a “pretend boss” himself.  This in itself will probably be welcomed by the F/Os, as it enables them to build skills very rapidly, at least in the instrument approach part of the flight envelope.  It also enhances the F/Os' status among other crew members and employees - the First Officer is now an essential and integral part of the operation, not merely an assistant to the "real" pilot.

Specifically, he has to conduct much of the flight in accordance with SOPs and to the boss’s satisfaction. In particular, he has to fly the approach so that “the Boss” can make a good landing from it. He has a strong incentive to adhere to rules and procedures: if he messes it up, the boss will not be happy, as the boss is intending to take over later to do the landing. Previously, the boss would either be doing it all, or if allowing the F/O to fly would again take over, but only in the event that it has been so messed up as to be actually dangerous.    

Conversely, if the F/O does a really good job, his performance will make the boss’ task easier, reflecting well on the boss as well as on himself. The essential instruction from the Boss was "put the aircraft in a position from which I can make the best possible landing" and the collective “team” performance is enhanced.

What of the Captain?  His status is raised, because he is clearly seen to be supervising and commanding a subordinate, while the implicit Boeing position that "The task of the First Officer is to supervise the Captain and stop him killing the crew and passengers and from damaging the airplane" are unlikely to be acceptable in such a culture.

He can benefit from having the mundane work of "ordinary" instrument approaches done for him. Most of the time he exercises his proper command and communications functions, then takes over to perform the most demanding task requiring the most skill - judging visual cues and making the landing. He becomes the “Master,” a mentor or father figure who encourages and advises the more junior person, and as the skill of the junior pilots increases with experience, it reflects credit on the senior persons.

Moreover, any reservations the Captain may have about the F/O’s abilities (which would cause him to tend to disregard any criticism or correction from the F/O) are translated into additional safety margins:  for example, in reviewing the F/O’s proposed descent profile and route, he could add a few extra miles if he considers the plan to be optimistic. Many accidents appear to stem from the belief of the pilot flying that he can actually “still make it”, when prudence suggests otherwise. Delegating the “important but routine” activity encourages both pilots to err on the side of caution, and helps eliminate complacency.

PicMA thus builds on the strengths of cultures where respect for laid down procedures (UA) and respect for authority (PDI) are high. It should be more productive than trying to reduce PDI in the same culture by techniques such as telling First Officers to think of themselves as the "oldest son in a family, protecting the father from harm".  While this idea may work for the F/Os, it might equally be strongly rejected by the Captains in the airline, with its implication that they are geriatric old fools who need to be protected from themselves.

"Good Buddies" culture benefits.

In cultures where “equal partners” is a widely accepted objective, PicMA tends to achieve exactly the kind of equalisation of skills necessary to reach the “Good Buddies” ideal of the crew as a team. "Good Buddies" cultures already tend to be individualistic.  Frank Tullo has referred to the CRM training difficulties in this type of pilot culture, saying "Moving away from the individualistic accomplishment culture toward a true team accomplishment culture is indeed a very hard task, for it is truly not only embedded in our national, industry and organizational culture but is also part of our basic human makeup."  

Typically in these cultures, Captains are expected to alternate PF/PM duties with the First Officer on a (theoretically) leg-and-leg basis.  But of course, "Toxic Captains" and those who do not have confidence in their F/Os may not. This generates resentment among their F/Os, and makes these Captains even less inclined to accept corrective monitoring input from the PM.

With PicMA as an SOP, a Captain who keeps all the takeoffs and landings to himself will now end up losing out on routine flying - but his F/Os will become extremely skilled, especially at instrument approaches.  With traditional PF/PM “assisted” procedures, such Captains become more practised at all flying tasks, at the expense of their junior colleagues.

These Captains’ selfishness causes their F/Os’ skills to decline - which will also make them even less likely to respect the F/Os’ inputs when they are most needed, while the F/Os become less qualified to make effective inputs. In practice, the need to maintain a balance of skills will cause the most egotistic Captains (of whom there are still many) to become more even-handed, because otherwise their own skills will degrade.

(Again, please note that the suggestion that routine flying be delegated from the pilot to the co-pilot has no impact whatever on the concept of “First Officers sectors”, other than to enhance their value. “Pilot-in-Command under Supervision” flying is essential to the long-term safety of an airline, not to its short-term safety. There is no change needed to an airline’s "F/O flying" policy solely as a result of changing the “basic” procedure. During an F/O’s leg, the F/O would make the takeoff and landing and the Captain fly the en-route and arrival. There is a specific section of this site for a more detailed explanation of this surprisingly complex issue.)