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Human Factors and aviation safety

Friday August 14th 2015

This evening an independent UK television channel broadcast an interesting and generally accurate programme about the crash of a British European Airways Trident aircraft at London Heathrow in the early1970’s.

At the time of the crash I was a co-pilot with the company flying out of Scotland. As an experienced pilot I was allowed to fly a two pilot aircraft even though it was less sophisticated than the modern Trident jet that crashed. To compensate for the lower experience levels of the jet co-pilots, the trident carried two co-pilots. Well known to those of us in the airline at the time was the fact that there had been a  very very heated argument in the crew room in London before crash. The argument involved the Captain of the ill fated flight.

(There had been an industrial dispute between the company and some of the companies  training co-pilots who wanted to be paid extra for their training duties.)

The findings of the Accident Investigation Branch included the probability that the Captain had suffered a heart attack perhaps as a  result of the argument and that it was possible that the two young and inexperienced co-pilots were intimidated by the attitude of their captain. When the aircraft stalled, the mood in the cockpit and the perceived hostility of the captain to co-pilots in general, meant that neither of the co-pilots would have been willing to give ‘advice’ to the Captain. Everyone on board lost their lives.

Today, nearly 43 years later I have been involved in the training of some co-pilots who are about to be promoted to Captain. My role in their preparation to become Captains is about the ‘soft’ skills, the ‘interpersonal relationships’ between members of the crew. In commercial aviation we call it Cockpit Resource management(CRM) or Non Technical Skills (NTS) or Human Factors Training.

Tomorrow we shall have completed the 3 day course,  in 6 months time and then every 6 months for the rest of their careers they will be assessed on the application of those skills.

When the Trident crashed there was no such training.

Captain Keith

 

Here is a link to a CRM Training paper

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