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By Hunter Old - After analyzing data on accidents within commercial aviation over a 10-year period, the Federal Aviation Administration published a new rule in January of this year that requires all Part 135 operators employing more than one pilot to install Crew Resource Management training.  The final rule gives commercial operators until March 22, 2013 to establish CRM programs for both initial and recurrent training, and to have those programs approved.  After that period, certificate holders Helicrash picconducting Part 135 operations will be prohibited from using a crewmember unless that person has completed the certificate holder’s initial CRM training.

 

CRM generally is recognized as an effective tool for reducing human error in flight operations, and implementation of CRM training for commercial aviation has been on the National Transportation Safety Board’s “Most Wanted” list of safety improvements for the past seven years.  The new rule, which is codified in 14 C.F.R. § 135.330, will affect 1,625 Part 135 operators that employ more than 25,000 crewmembers, including pilots and flight attendants, according to the FAA.  Under the final rule, Part 135 operators must provide initial and recurrent CRM academic training, which at a minimum must address the authority of the pilot in command, communication processes, building and maintaining a flight team, managing workload and time, maintaining situational awareness, recognizing and mitigating fatigue and stress, and mastering the aeronautical decision-making skills tailored to particular operations. 

 

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which was published May 1, 2009, was designed to codify existing guidance in Advisory Circulars.  It received only seven comments from the public, including one from Helicopter Association International, all of which voiced general approval for the proposal.  The final rule differed from the proposed rule only in one significant aspect.  The proposed rule would have allowed initial CRM training to transfer from one Part 135 operator to another.  Because of the significant differences among the operations of Part 135 companies, however, the agency decided to require initial CRM training for all new hires in the final rule.

 

As part of rulemaking process, the FAA described the research it conducted into whether requiring CRM training would improve aviation safety.  Between March 1997 and March 2008, ineffective CRM was blamed for six helicopter accidents, causing 17 fatalities, among the 24 commercial aviation accidents, and 83 fatalities overall, in which a lack of effective CRM was deemed the culprit.  All six of the helicopter accidents involved single-pilot operations.  Had CRM been required over this 10-year period, the agency estimated, based on statistics involving Part 121 operators, that at least one of the helicopter accidents and 2.75 of the fatal plane accidents could have been avoided.  According to the agency, effective CRM also could have prevented one non-fatal helicopter accident and plane accident. 

The new CRM training requirement likely will have the largest impact on charter services and air taxi companies, as CRM was not previously required for such businesses.  They now face a significant expense in creating and seeking approval for additional training that will need to occur on a regular basis.  The FAA did take the cost of compliance into account, and deemed the likely improvement to aviation safety a sufficient justification for the price tag to newly affected Part 135 operators. 

 

CRM focuses on the interactions among all aviation personnel, including pilots, mechanics, operations personnel, air traffic controllers, flight service stations and flight attendants.  It also addresses single-pilot communications, decision making and situational awareness.  The program’s roots are generally attributed in the United States to a NASA workshop in the late 1970s.  Like the new FAA requirement, the original concept stemmed from an analysis of the causes of commercial aviation accidents.  United Airlines generally is considered the first airline to implement a CRM program in 1981.  Early CRM programs were called Cockpit Resource Management, and focused more on the psychology of accepting input from subordinates and prioritizing information.  By the mid-1980s, CRM programs were part of most major airline training and began to focus more on cockpit-specific training.  Military pilots began receiving formal CRM training in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

 

Over the next decade, CRM began to diversify into programs that were more tailored to the specific airline.  The programs began to focus on technical training, as well as specific skills pilots could use to make their cockpits more efficient.  Advanced training also began to take place for check pilots and other evaluators, to ensure CRM was not only being trained, but reinforced and evaluated frequently.  CRM also broadened in scope to include others related to aviation operations, such as flights attendants, dispatchers and maintenance personnel.  The new rule broadens the requirement for CRM beyond large air carriers, which have been required to conduct CRM since 1997. 

 

Hunter Old represents aviation businesses, pilots and mechanics as a partner with the law firm of Kaufman & Canoles, P.C. in Williamsburg, Virginia.  He also is licensed as a commercial helicopter pilot, and flew both UH-1s and CH-47s in the Army Reserves.  He can be reached at whold@kaufcan.com, or on (757) 259-3870.

 

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