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The human operator, the least reliable element of an aerodyne, but the most essential...!
Frank Caron (1991)

Last update:
26 September 2016

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Human Factors - Current CRM have reach its limits
A success
But limits
Some critical areas
CRM still essential
CRM must evolve
Impose a focus on dealing with non normal situation
Empahsizing crew operational relationship
Expanding the benefits to ALL the involved personnel

Crew Resource Management (CRM) techniques have been proposed as means of making crew working together more efficiently, thus reducing the opportunity for human error in aviation. They are also intended to improve the detection and mitigation of those errors that do occur.

With no doubt, this new concept has brought a tremendous change in the aviation industry: culture, spirit, behavior, management, training... and enhanced the general level of safety.

A success
Definitely, it has been a major success to help the crew working together during normal and routine operations.

But limits
Beside these normal situations, the CRM did not really fulfilled the expectations.

Most, if not all, the recent incident or accidents reports still argue that CRM problems continue to be major sources of aviation accidents. Thus, this technique did not eradicate ALL the accidents or serious incidents types that triggered its implementation in the 70's.

CRM problems continue to be major sources of aviation accidents.

Today, some specialists are talking about "failure of CRM" (Reasons for the failure of CRM Training in Aviation). Others think CRM training course are made to detriment of basic training's.

Strangely, not every organization is convinced about the multiple benefits of CRM… In some part of the world, CRM is just a lawful obligation from the National Authority or a requirement from the insurance company...

It is more accurate to consider these difficulties as the limits of the CRM. Before this training technique could bring some change and enhanced safety, it must convince about its usefulness. It must not be approach as THE magic tool solving ALL crew issues.

Some critical areas
The CRM area showing some limits are the following factors:

  1. non normal operations
  2. unplanned operations
  3. high workload circumstances
  4. crew(s) fatigue
  5. "flight deck gradient" of authority
  6. internal or collective cognitive conflicts

During most of the previous situations, reports showed that CRM was poorly used... and during some events, CRM was not used at all... The B737-800 stall during approach in Amsterdam is a very good illustration about such a CRM failure.

This lack of CRM leads to many non-operational results as failure to maintain an adequate division of labor among the cockpit crew, or numerous distractions.

One of the major consequences was to operate aircraft in a very unusual way exceeding normal envelope parameters and increasing the already high workload.

Dealing with non-normal situations, most of the time unplanned produces 2 important factors that decrease performance: stress and fatigue.

In such situations, many ingredients seem to be reunited resulting in performance decrease well below from what CRM is supposed to set.

CRM still essential
But, these findings do not mean CRM training is useless...

Firstly, because there are a number of reasons why CRM training can fail to deliver the benefits that have been identified by its supporters.

Secondly, because CRM is not a miracle tool. CRM is just one of several complex factors that affect human performance.

Finally, because it is time to look beyond CRM training as a panacea for human factors problems.

CRM must evolve
It may be time to look at the underlying causes of "flight deck gradient" of authority, high workload and of poor decision making rather than continuing to advocate the coping strategies that are instilled by CRM training.

At least 3 main directions must be developed:

  1. Impose a focus on dealing with non-normal situation,
  2. Emphasizing crew operational relationship,
  3. Expanding the benefits to ALL the involved personnel.

Impose a focus on dealing with non-normal situation
The non normal and unexpected situations are definitely the weak aspects of current CRM.

Empahsizing crew operational relationship
Crew skills must be developed and trained in order to deal in a collective way with unexpected and non-normal situations.
First, regarding management of the situation between the involved members.
Second, to communicate and share efficiently during these situations.
Third, using classroom and simulators facing some scenarios.
Finally, it is important to review how some leadership styles cannot appropriate, but worse can really impaired the management of such situations.

Expanding the benefits to ALL the involved personnel
Suitable CRM training course should be developed for every aviation professional including:

  1. Airlines Management,
  2. Flight Operations department,
  3. Ground Operations department,
  4. Training department,
  5. Maintenance department,
  6. Other service providers,
  7. Develop links with CAA, ATC, Airport, etc.

The most important is to make this expansion as much collective as possible.
The aviation industry is a complex system, and all the parties MUST work TOGETHER.


Frank Caron, September 2007.

quick links

5 steps to convince about safety

Why air safety improvement is too slow (organisation)?

Why air safety improvement is too slow (culture)?

Why training is the main solution to human factors issues

Human factors still the current challenge of the industry

No limits for the understanding of human factors

Suggestions for a discipline committee

Too long briefings

Current CRM have reach its limits

Aviation safety international legal definitions

Two statements about fatigue every manager must know