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The Importance of Communication and Teamwork Among the Flight and Cabin Crew
TABLE OF CONTENTS
COLLECTED DATA 5
Importance of Communication Among the Crew 5
Main Cause of Aircraft Accidents 6
Duties of the Crew Members 7
Expectations of the Crew 7
The Crew is a Team 8
Intimidatin in the Cockpit 8
Cabin Crew is a part of the Team 9
Trusting the Crew’s Judgment 9
Crew Resource Management (CRM) 9
Outline of CRM Training 10
LOFT Training 10
Organizing Resources and Priorities 11
Summary of Findings 11
Interpretation of Findings 11
The majority of aircraft accidents are caused by human error, and an accident or
incident is linked together by a chain of errors. Most of these accidents could
have been avoided by the crew if they would have been communicating to each
other better. Some common errors that occur among the crew are poor task
delegation, assertiveness, and distractions. Crew training in communication and
teamwork will increase the crews’ performance level. Programs like Crew Resource
Management (CRM) have been developed to try to help the crews work together and
reduce the human factor in accidents. CRM includes training in
leadership/followership, assertiveness, management, communication, teamwork,
decision making, and task delegation. Through programs like CRM crews learn to
work together as a team, and when they are working together it is less likely
there’ll be an accident.
The cause for most aircraft accidents (65%) are by crew error (FAA News,
1996). When the Crews performance level is low due to poor teamwork and
communication this is when accidents happen. How can crew error be reduced? Even
though human error can’t be reduced completely through constant training and
effort by the crew performance will increase and accidents will be reduced.
This report is intended for a general audience and will show how
important it is for the flight and cabin crew to work together and communicate
as a team. This report will also examine the CRM program.
Sources have been obtained for this report from the Internet and from
the Waldo Library, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Teamwork and communication are a critical factor in the crew’s operation
of aircraft. Accidents can be prevented when these two factors are considered.
Importance of Communication amoung the Crew
People communicate to each other every day. From a kids talking to their
parents about their report card, to doctors working in an operating room. In
order for us to understand one another we must be clear in what we say. For
instance, if a doctor tells a nurse to pull a certain plug on a machine, he’d
better be clear on what he says or the nurse might end up harming a patient.
Likewise, the cabin and flight crew must work together.
In a typical cockpit the flight crew is very busy, and they need to be
well organized to handle the many tasks they perform. They need to communicate
properly and clearly for safe operations, if they don’t their actions could
result in a tragedy.
Main Cause of Aircraft Accidents
Mechanical problems and technical malfunctions do contribute to aircraft
accidents, but human error is the main cause, accounting for 65% of the
accidents (FAA News, 1996). See the pie chart in figure 1. This figure is quit
high, and if it were possible to reduce human error the accident rate would
drop significantly. Accidents that occur because of human error are not a direct
result of just one error but of a chain of errors. The human error chain results
when one bad decision leads to another which leads to the accident. The question
is, how can we reduce human error in the cockpit? Studies have shown that most
incidents could have been prevented if communication and leadership skills were
Duties of Crew Members
In order to have a clear understanding of who’s involved in the crew,
these positions with their duties will be discussed. There are usually 2-3
flight crew members and 1-3 flight attendants aboard an airliner. In the flight
deck are the Captain, Co-pilot and flight engineer. When there are only two
flight crew members there’s no flight engineer. (this is to reduce costs). The
Captain is the Pilot in Command (PIC). He/she has the final authority of all
decisions and all responsibility rest on his/her shoulders. The Co-pilot assists
the Captain in his/her duties, like calculating fuel consumptions, weight and
balance, navigation etc. He/she is Second in Command (SIC). The Flight Engineer
helps reduce the work load of the Captain and Co-pilot. Some of his/her duties
may include fuel consumption rate, weight and balance, and communicating with
the cabin crew. The cabin crew consists of the Flight Attendants. Besides
serving coffee and making sure passengers are comfortable, they are also
responsiblefor briefing passengers on emergency procedures, evacuations, and
informing the flight crew when problems arise. Flight Attendants are very
important and are an asset to the crew as a whole.
Expectations of the Crew
Many aircraft accidents have occurred because of role confusion amoung
the crew. It is crucial that each member knows what their job is, and what is
expected of them. A way for them to know is through communication. An example of
miscommunication is the Avianca jet that was in the pattern for over an hour
waiting to land at Kennedy Airport. The flight crew had told Air Traffic Control
(ATC) they were low on fuel and would run out if they did not land soon. The
plane crashed on final approach to land, the reason: fuel exhaustion (Nader &
Smith, 1994). The crew didn’t declare an emergency to ATC. In aviation saying
the right key words can make a difference. Had the pilots declared an emergency
because of the low fuel level ATC would have cleared them to land earlier. Or if
ATC inquired about their fuel situation, the accident wouldn’t have happened.
This accident also shows the human error chain. One mistake leads to another
which leads to an accident..
A Crew is A Team
The words Crew and Team have the same meaning: A group of people working
together. The flight & cabin crew are a team and each crew member is a team
player. A military phrase heard often is “there are no individuals here! You are
a team!” It should be the same way aboard an aircraft. In order for flights to
be safe, efficient and enjoyable the crew needs to be able to work together.
It’s not enough for the Captain to give orders and the crew obey no matter what,
there needs to be open communication.
Intimidation in the Cockpit
The Captain is the commander on board but this doesn’t mean he can’t
listen of take advice. Each member of the “team” is interdependent on one
another. Sometimes in aviation the Captain is thought of as “god”, you don’t
dare approach him or question him. A lot of cabin and flight crews are afraid to
approach the Captain about a safety concern for fear of how he’ll react. Slowly
this attitude has been changing. How can a cockpit be effectively run if the
Captain’s own crew can not work together?
One example of how these attitudes can affect the way hazardous
situations are handled is the Air Ontario flight from Dryden, Canada. The
airliner had been waiting along time for it’s turn to takeoff. The weather was
bad, it was snowing hard and the visibility was low. The last time the plane was
de-iced was a half-hour ago. From the pilots view out the window everything
looked normal. Meanwhile, a flight attendant noticed the snow that was
accumulating on the aircraft’s wings. She wanted to inform the flight crew
before takeoff but was intimidated by what their response would be to her, so
she said nothing. There was also an airline pilot aboard who wasn’t on duty at
the time, but was also concerned about ice forming on the wings. He thought
about letting the flight crew know what he saw, but didn’t want to interfere
with their operations. The Air Canada barely took off when it crashed because
ice had built on the wings causing loss of lift (Chute & Wiener, 1996).
Cabin Crew is part of the Team
Here again is the human error chain. If one of the links could have been
broken the accident wouldn’t have happened. These attitudes can and do cause
harm. The flight attendant and off duty pilot should have informed the crew of
the possible danger and the Captain should have requested another de-icing
before takeoff. The crew should welcome the cabin crew on their concerns, after
all they too are a part of the team.
Trusting the Crew’s Judgment
Trusting each other’s judgement is a necessity. Without it, how can the
crew work together? The Captain must be able to trust that his/her crew are
performing their duties properly and vise/versa. Besides having authority the
Captain is also the leader. He/she is the one when emergency situations arise
pulls the crew together to work as a team even when they don’t know each other.
A true leader is willing to listen to others, be respectful and be able to take
Crew Resource Management (CRM)
A program called Crew Resource Management (CRM) has been developed to
help implement these leadership, communication and decision making skills in
crew members. Since the main cause of accidents is due to human error it is
hoped that through CRM training crew membfers will communicate and work together
more effectively. CRM is not required by the FAA, but it is recommended. Many
airlines are having their crews go through this training and they look highly on
pilots who not only posse the technical skills but also the people skills.
Outline of CRM Training
In years past emphasis was put on the technical, stick and rudder
aspects of flying. In recent years it has become evident that these skills by
themselves are not enough, but that training in people skills is needed. That is
what CRM is about. It provides crews’ training in:
2. Decision making.
6. Task Delegation.
Crew members going through CRM training will attend classroom
instruction, watch video’s and participate in role playing on these subjects
(FAA- AC, 1995). LOFT Training
Because crews rarely work together more than once and dont’t have time
to build a commrodery, using the Line Oriented Flight Training (LOFT) simulator
crews practice managing a cockpit with members they’ve never met (Chute & Wiener
I,1996). This simulator is like virtual reality. Pilots sit in a cockpit where
the windows are where the video screen is, all the buttons and knobs work.
(Pilot have come out of these LOFT simulators sweating, because what they’ve
just experienced seemed so real). In LOFT crews can fly routes and have
emergency situations come up, like an engine failure, deteriorating weather, and
navigation problems. The benifit about LOFT is that it’s a simulator, there’s no
danger involved and yet the crew still learns (Helmreich, 1996). Crews going
through LOFT training are evaluated on how well they handled the different
situations, communication with each other and task delegation. These training
sessions are vidio taped so the crew can debrief afterwards how well they did
and what they need to change.
Organize Resources and Priorities
Crew members are not only leaders but also managers. They must be able
to use their time and resources wisely. Thers’s only so many tasks that one
person can handle and be efficient at the same time. That’s why Captains need to
know when to delegate duties and when to notice that another has to many. Also,
They need to prioritise, know what duties are the most important and when they
need to be done. This is all part of being a leader and manager.
Summary of Findings
Human error is the main cause of aircraft accidents, and it’s a chain of
errors that sets the accident into motion. Poor flight and cabin crew
communication does exist. A program called Crew Resource Management has been
developed to improve teamwork, proper task delegation, communication, and trust
among the crew.Interpretation of the Findings
The need for crew communication is evident. When crews’ don’t work
together their performance level is low and this is when they are volnerable to
Programs like CRM are very helpful in instilling these principles and
breaking the bad habits. Poor attitiudes and habits can’t be changed overnight.
That’s why there is a need for recurrent CRM training. Communicaiton and
teamwork is the key to safe and effective operations. There’s no “I” in CREW but
there is “WE”.
Chute, R. D. & Wiener, E. L. “Cockpit/cabin communication: I. A tale of two
Federal Aviation Administration. (1995) Crew resource management training (AFS-
210, AC no. 120-51B). Washington, D. C.
Nader, R. & Smith, W. J. (1994). Collision course: The truth about airline
safety. PA: TAB Books.
FAA News. “Atlantic coast airlines first to use FAA crew performance program.”
[http://www.dot.gov/affairs/apa15596.htm]. Sept 1996.
Helmreich, R. L. “The evolution of crew resource management.”
[http://www.psy.utexas.edu/psy/helmreich/iata96/htm]. Oct 1996.
Chute, R. D. & Wiener, E. L. (1996). Cockpit-cabin communicaiton: II. shall we
tell the pilot? The International Journal of Aviaiton Phychology, 6 (3), 211-
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