EASA, Practice what you preach!

‘I don’t like this,’ a 1st officer said moments before the First Air Flight 6560 crashed in 2011[1]. The accident is a prime example of what can happen when communication and Crew Resource Management (CRM) break down in a modern, multicultural cockpit.

With a similar feeling the pilot community is looking at some recently proposed changes to CRM Training Standards, currently subject to revision by EASA. While the proposed changes do include a number of improvements, some changes are worrying, as explained in an ECA position paper, published this week.

CRM relates to the “non-technical” skills, which are necessary when working in a team in risky highly technological environment, where human error could have devastating effects. CRM is not an easy subject – it is hard to quantify and it is often prone to subjective assessment. Bad CRM implementation could have devastating effects for pilots, their families but also for airlines if licenses are lost arbitrarily. One of the main features of CRM is situation awareness – key component of correct decision making and action. Looking at some of the proposed changes though, it is not exactly clear what the motivation for their revision was. The current rules are the result of broad consultation, including in the EU Parliament. ECA was not particularly satisfied with them but the reality is that the system is working and that CRM is no longer perceived as a critical safety factor. Why change what worked?

Communication, trust and the establishment of a culture in which the members of a team can respectfully question the others, are another key element of CRM. EASA is proposing to exclude crews from the process of assessing the CRM methodology in their company. This measure stops communication and impedes crews’ buy-in of the system which is precondition for its good functioning. Without the participation of crews in the assessment of the methodology, trust will not be there and the possibilities of error and social unrest will increase.

Training is the solution to improving CRM. Explaining to crews what went wrong and what needs to be improved is a key element. In a subjective area, this can only be linked to verifiable parameters. ECA believes that assessment of CRM should be linked to technical failure and cannot constitute an isolated check item during periodical evaluations.

With this in mind, EASA’s revision of the rules might be beneficial if the CRM principles are applied to the revision process itself in order to safeguard CRM as a working system, one in which all parties trust.