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The Importance of CRM During Time-Critical Situations

Human Factors, CRM | May 1, 2014

Author: Brent Fishlock


I recently completed recurrent training in the simulator that included inadvertent entry into volcanic ash resulting in double engine flameout. There are 1500 active volcanoes in the world, resulting in about 50 eruptions per year. The danger of volcanic ash to aircraft engines is well known, and is now part of company training programs worldwide.

The best defence is avoidance, but should a crew fly into volcanic ash, then having dealt with it in the simulator will better prepare everyone. Volcanic ash bulletins are available on aviation weather websites and are often highlighted after an eruption.

The simulator training drew not only on all of my systems knowledge of the type being flown, but also the Crew Resource Management (CRM) benefits of a crew working well together in a time-critical environment. Tasks were divided so as not to overtax any one person, and all resources were used, including external ones such as ATC. Task assignments were then monitored for time management effectiveness.

As you can imagine, this was all happening very quickly, underscoring the need for preparedness. Are you familiar with your aircraft’s best glide speed? Does the speed change with altitude, and if so at which altitudes? These are questions that should be answered well before they are raised in the cockpit.

The well-known aviation catch phrase “aviate navigate communicate” was truly critical during this exercise, as was hand-flying proficiency. Pilots should always have a backup plan or a place to go, and communicate the plan to those who need to know in a timely fashion, which facilitates external assistance. In this situation, the communication phase was continuous as the engine restarts were attempted. As the emergency progressed, only one engine was successfully restarted, which modified the scenario to something that is trained frequently—the single-engine approach and landing. It can be clearly seen that a significant amount of CRM training was used during this short exercise, without which the outcome could not have been as successful.

Brent Fishlock is a technical advisor for

aviation professional

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