How do relationships in the cockpit impact performance? A comprehensive look at the “Human Factor”

Carmel Stern

“Accident investigation is not something that comes naturally to people”, began Maj. Oren, Head of the Human Factor Department in the IAF’s Flight Safety Center and a Pilot in the “Leaders of the Night” Squadron, which operates the “Yas’ur” (CH-53).

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The “Human Element” | Photography: Celia Garion

The Logic of Failure
“The ‘Human Factor’ in accidents is not absolute and clear cut like technical investigation, which asks if the pilot moved the stick to the left or to the right. Moreover, an action will never be classified as human error in real time by the person who performed it because at that moment it seemed like the logical thing to do. An action can be classified as human error only in hindsight, so the purpose of investigation is understanding the logic of failure, what caused people to think, feel and act in the way they did”, explained Maj. Oren.

The IAF has come a long way in accident prevention. In the 1980’s there were about 30 fatal accidents a year, while in the past years there is about one accident a year. “There is an old perception regarding safety that claims that the organization is fundamentally safe and that people are the ones who make the situation unsafe. Progressive safety concepts claim that safety, similarly to operational success, is a situation that we, the people who make up the organization, create constantly”.

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“Safety is a situation that we, the people who make up the organization, create constantly” | Photography: Celia Garion

From Group to Team
The term CRM (Cockpit Resource Management) has become Crew Resource Management over time and is a fundamental component in the investigation of the human element in flight accidents.

Today it means efficient utilization of crew members so each one’s ability is maximized while utilizing each individual’s relative advantage.

“It’s the capability to turn a group into a unified team that can operate in every situation, regardless of age, tiredness, mental state and operational conditions. It’s knowing yourself as an individual in the team, how much space you want to occupy and how to make the other people in your team feel confident”, describes Capt. (Res’) Gal, an Air Traffic Controller and CRM workshop instructor in reserve service. His reserve service in the ATC Division clarified the need for a fresh look at team work in ATC missions.

“When you’re an aircrew member, it’s clear what number you are in the formation, but when you sit in the ATC station, it isn’t necessarily as clear”, he explained. “An experienced Private can catch a mistake made by a Lt. Col. who isn’t familiar with the commands. In addition, I felt that there was a gap between the stations manned by controllers in regular service and controllers in reserve service. This gap was reflected in knowledge, operational methods, feeling of responsibility, the way the controllers deal with small mistakes and emotional maturity”.

Lt. Col. Alon, Commander of the “Knights of the Yellow Bird” Squadron, which operates the “Karnaf” (Hercules C-130) often takes off with 8 crew members in the cockpit. “The ability to properly manage the resources in the cockpit is essential in an aircraft. In the transport division, considering the size of the crew and the complexity of the missions, this ability is particularly essential. As a captain and commander I want to bring out the best of everyone. Understand how every crew member’s relative advantage can be utilizes, how to avoid stopping them from expressing themselves, how to lead the group and have them follow me, while also make sure they know to stop me when I’m wrong”.

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When sitting at an ATC station, your position in the formation is less clear | Archive Photo

Between Man and Machine
In 2017, questions regarding man-machine interface become more relevant than ever. “Throughout the ‘Upgraded Karnaf’ development process, we examined the things that have changed and took another look at our team work in the aircraft. The focal points in the cockpit have changed as a result of automation and avionics and we defined the new method of human resource management in the cockpit”, added Lt. Col. Alon. An example of a change made in “Shimshon” CRM, is that the responsibilities of the Flight Engineer have been divided between the pilots, navigator and loadmasters.

“As a pilot in the IAF, I have flown 200 people with four people in the cockpit, today, in the airline that I work for, I fly about 400 people with just one other pilot beside me. The aircrew members who aren’t responsible for piloting in the IAF are more mission oriented and deal with the objectives of the sortie, nevertheless, they are deliberating how many people should be in the cockpit. The risk of accidents rises as the dependence on the human element rises, while on the other hand, it is possible to assert that the operation of a cockpit full of systems requires cooperation and internal synchronization. Talented people that operate amazing systems are still naturally susceptible to a various number of mistakes”, concluded Lt. Col. (Res’) Tzachi, whose company implements CRM culture in hospitals, schools and construction companies. “Aircraft are more sophisticated and it seems that the image of the macho captain who won’t admit his mistakes has been replaced by pilots who were ‘raised’ on CRM culture, knowingly or unknowingly”.