CRM or Cockpit (or Crew) Resource Management is a term that is often thrown around when it comes to the training of commercial pilots. However, there has been ever increasing research that shows the benefit of CRM in all pilot training, even for the weekend flying VFR private pilot. While it is not yet a compulsory part of PPL training, the benefits to safety are unquestionable, so here are some pointers for you to practice yourself.
The main purpose of CRM or SRM in the case of single pilot operations is to learn the art of managing all on board and outside resources both before, and during the flight, to ensure the best (the safest) outcome for your flight. The key is to identify your available resources, obtain the required information from them, analyse the data, and make the best possible decisions. The FAA has a very useful 5 point plan for SRM which can be summarised as follows:
PLAN – With the advent of GPS it seems all too easy to just hop in and fly to our destination, however, doing a little old school cross country planning will definitely make you more aware as a pilot. Analysing various (not just one!) weather charts, for example, will provide you with more than just insight into possible bad weather. You can use wind charts to find the most optimal flight level that will reduce your flight time, and consequent fuel costs. Filing flight plan, even if it is not a legal requirement in some cases should be a personal requirement. Not only will this save you a lot of radio discussion with ATC or FIS, but because of the unpredictability of something going wrong, someone will always have an idea where you are, and help can reach you sooner. Fuel planning is also something you can never pay too much attention to – don’t just calculate what you need, but also how it will affect your weight and balance for the flight and for the landing. Another one which is often over looked are the NOTAMS, don’t check these beforehand and you may find yourself overhead an airfield with a runway under renovation, or the airspace you had planned to cross is closed due to an event. Once you are satisfied with your planning, be prepared to handle a change of the plan during the flight.
PLANE – Know your aeroplane thoroughly. It is difficult to identify a potential problem if you do not know what the normal operating parameters are. Make sure you know how all the systems work and how to use the equipment. Remind yourself to constantly scan the parameters, so that you can detect any abnormalities quickly.
PILOT – Here is a tricky one. Without a company that lays down the rules, or colleagues on the lookout for you, you need to be able to assess your own state of mind and health. The acronym IMSAFE is a good one to remember:
Illness – Are you feeling sick in any way? Remember that even allergies or sinus pain can be severely aggravated at higher altitudes, and could affect your focus and concentration.
Medication – Are you taking any medication? Have you checked if it is safe to fly while using or having used the medication?
Stress – What is on your mind? If you feel stressed in any way, be aware that these thoughts could be distracting and could affect the way you fly.
Alcohol – If you have been drinking in the past 8 hours, do not even get in the aircraft. It is against the law, and losing your licence to the skies would be just plain stupid.
Fatigue – Are you tired? Just like driving a car, your concentration and reaction time is severely impaired. It may cost time and money to stay overnight, but it is less expensive than your life or those of your passengers.
Emotion – If you are feeling upset, rather go to gym, hit a punch bag, but don’t go fly! A pilot who is not calm is rarely going to fly well.
Passengers – These guys are not just a source of entertainment or annoyance, use them to assist you, and make them part of the flying experience. Be very careful not to allow passengers to influence your better judgement, like a request to fly in a valley, or the anxiety to reach a destination when the weather is looking dodgy. Discuss potential limitations, and the flight plan, with your passengers before the day of the flight so that everyone is on the same page. Passengers also provide extra sets of eyes when looking out for other traffic, an airfield, or a landmark that may be obscured on the pilot’s side.
Programming – This refers to particularly your on board electronics and navigation devices. Know exactly how to program these, and change course if required before you take off. Fiddling with these in flight can lead you into distraction from potential hazards. Also have a back up plan in the event that this equipment should fail.
As a single pilot, with proper planning, you have more resources than you realise. For example, perhaps you are not sure if your landing gear is properly extended, you (or a passenger) can always use your mobile phone to call someone on the ground to check, or if your are at a controlled airfield, you can call on ATC to assist you. Lastly, be a ‘buddy’ to your fellow pilots – offer to be on standby just in case, know where they are going, or sit them down if you feel they are not in a state to fly.
Resources: FAA Risk Management Handbook (Chapter 4); Advisory Circular 120-51E, Crew Resource Management Training