For this blog post I’m just sharing a short paper I wrote for the Crew Resource Management class that I am currently finishing. We were assigned to do an article review on a topic of our choosing, so I researched single-pilot CRM techniques. Doing short projects like this one are a great way to practice for longer, more in-depth topics. I’ve also found that if you write about a subject you’re interested in, it becomes much easier to get creative and have fun with the assignment.
The article that I am reviewing is an intriguing piece of work by renowned aviation author Richard L. Collins. He has been involved in aviation all the way back from 1952 when he got his Private Pilot Certificate, and since then he has flown more than 20,000 hours in general aviation airplanes. He is also very well known for publishing several different books on a variety of aviation topics. In “Flight Resource Management for the Single Pilot”, Richard is presenting some very practical techniques to improve safety and cockpit management, when flying as a single pilot. Initially I felt that that crew resource management topics wouldn’t apply when flying without an actual crew, but after reading the article I was proven otherwise.
Most discussions about CRM distinctly list the advantages of having multiple crew members working together for any given situation. It is also assumed that a single pilot is at quite a disadvantage. The primary task of the pilot becomes flight resource management, which is finding the most effective way to reduce workload and use available technology to fly the plane. Even when there are no other pilots onboard the aircraft, autopilot, navigational aids, and air traffic control are all options that could be used to help in a stressful situation.
A brief discussion in the article also covers the first steps a pilot should take before a flight. This would be checking the weather ahead of time, and making sure to update any information with more current briefings as it gets closer to the flight time. Sometimes a pilot will also have to say “no” to a flight in more challenging conditions, especially if there are high-risk factors such as inclement weather or poor airport conditions. An example is presented of poor flight resource management, when a solo pilot used poor aeronautical decision making and decided to fly IFR in terrible weather. He started off by not having full information about what the current weather conditions were, and then he elected to fly without being IFR proficient from the recent months. He ended up going into the clouds and picking up ice, and did not survive the following crash.
Collins’ main idea states that for single pilots to conduct a flight safely, they must take on the additional roles of other traditional crew members. A well-trained pilot will know that he has to do all of his own route and weather planning like an airline dispatcher would. Then he must use that information to evaluate his own abilities to conduct the flight safely. In the cockpit, he has to manage his documents, charts and checklists as well as possible. This will ensure they are easy to access in an emergency. Sterile cockpit rules should also apply to pilots flying solo; any unrelated thoughts or activities should be left alone until the plane is at a safer stage of flight. All of these actions are ones that would normally be enforced by other crew members. A single pilot needs to ensure he can review his own actions and evaluate if he is properly following those procedures.
Richard concludes the article by specifically applying some of the techniques to instrument flying, and gives an example of what he does when flying. Calling out altitudes and verifying approach segments out loud is a good way to keep up with the plane and not get distracted. Also he reminds us that humans are quite limited with their short-term memory, and that it is quite easy to forget or confuse an assigned altitude or speed from just a few moments ago. Writing down any important instructions on a scratch pad can be quite helpful, and it’s always an option to confirm with the air traffic controllers.
At the end of the day, flying alone is always going to be quite challenging, but there are many steps a pilot can take to make it safer and easier. The same CRM practices that airline crews follow can be applied even to a student pilot on a short flight. The principles are still the same.
Collins, R. L. (1996, April). The solo crew: flight resource management for the single pilot. Flying, 92-93. Retrieved from http://books.google.com
Richard L. Collins. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved November 9, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_L._Collins