Wednesday, May 18, 2005

CRM Phase II

For those outside the industry, Crew Resource Management (CRM) is a concept the FAA has been promoting throughout aviation since the mid-1980s. It arose from a rash of accidents starting in the 1960s where a multi-person crew was essentially single-pilot because of a domineering captain that everyone else was afraid to stand up to, or almost worse, a spineless indecisive captain who didn't want to make decisions. CRM, then, is the business of training crewmembers to work well together in their various roles with an eye on improving flight safety.

Well, kinda. CRM instructors are quick to point out that if a captain is a prick, a CRM course probably won't make him any less so. In fact, early courses had a strong emphasis on touchy-feely "kumbaya" feelings, which invited a backlash among the crusty old veterans. So essentially, among captains at least, CRM instructors are preaching to the converted: those who listen to their fellow crewmembers and involve them in decision making will continue to do so, and those who growl "gear up and shut up!" to their FO's will continue to do so. CRM for FO's, then, is largely about how to deal with this latter captain.

Not that there are many out there anymore. Many of the safety advances that've been attributed to CRM training, I'd actually chalk up to generational change. The old crusty captains with the "don't you dare question my authority!" attitude have mostly retired. Many of today's captains, having grown up under such tyranny, are inclined to have a much softer attitude. Also, today's pilots seem to be doing a better job of adapting to newer technology. The old guys who started on DC-3's and Convairs seemed to have a heck of a time transitioning to new-generations airplanes like the 757/767 and A320; for today's pilots, it's just another video game to play.

I just spent two days in my airline's CRM Phase II course, which is usually done after 6 months of flying the line. Of course, I've been here a year, but that's just because crew scheduling was being lax in getting me in. Most of it was fairly interesting, since little time was spent on theoreticals like "how humans communicate" (I've heard it about 10 times over the past 3 years). Most of the time in this class was spent talking about various situations we've found ourselves in during our time flying the line....essentially hangar flying.

The kicker is that, since they spent so much time waiting to drag me into CRM Phase II...I have recurrent ground school in 2 weeks, which has it's own CRM training! It's gonna be coming out my ears. And if they make me play that "Get as much money as you can" game again...arrg. I'll explain it later, but it was basically a game where you could win by being ruthless, or by everybody cooperating....and obviously, the moral of the game was that everybody wins when everybody cooperates. Gag me. I'll tell you the story later.