Managing the mission with a crew of… just you! Single pilot CRM

There is no one right answer in aeronautical decision-making. Each pilot is expected to analyze each situation in light of experience level, personal minimums, and current physical and mental readiness level, and make his or her own decision.


Single-Pilot Crew Resource Management

While crew resource management (CRM) focuses on pilots operating in crew environments, many of the concepts apply to single pilot operations. Many CRM principles have been successfully applied to single-pilot aircraft and led to the
development of single-pilot resource management (SRM).

Single-pilot resource management (SRM) is the art of managing all onboard and outside resources available to a pilot before and during a flight to help ensure a safe and successful outcome. SRM includes the concepts of aeronautical decision-making (ADM), risk management, controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) awareness, and situational awareness. SRM training helps the pilot maintain situational awareness by managing automation, associated aircraft control, and navigation tasks. This enables the pilot to accurately assess hazards, manage resulting risk potential, and make good decisions.

SRM helps pilots learn to execute methods of gathering information, analyzing it, and making decisions. Although the flight is coordinated by a single person and not an onboard flight crew, the use of available resources, such as air traffic control (ATC) and automated flight service stations (AFSS), replicates the principles of CRM.

Incorporating SRM into GA pilot training is an important step forward in aviation safety. A structured approach to SRM helps pilots learn to gather information, analyze it, and make sound decisions on the conduct of the flight.

Use of Resources
To make informed decisions during flight operations, a pilot must also become aware of the resources found inside and outside the flight deck. Since useful tools and sources of information may not always be readily apparent, learning to recognize these resources is an essential part of ADM training. Resources must not only be identified, but a pilot must also develop the skills to evaluate whether there is time to use a particular resource and the impact its use has upon the safety of flight. For example, the assistance of ATC may be very useful if a pilot becomes lost, but in an emergency situation, there may be no time to contact ATC.

During an emergency, a pilot makes an automatic decision and prioritizes accordingly. Calling ATC may take away from time available to solve the problem. Ironically, the pilot who feels the hourglass is running out of sand would be surprised at the actual amount of time available in which to make decisions. The perception of “time flying” or “dragging” is based on various factors. If the pilot were to repeat the event (in which time seemed to evaporate) but had been briefed on the impending situation and could plan for it, the pilot would not feel the pressure of time “flying.” This example demonstrates the theory that proper training and physiological well-being is critical to pilot safety.

Internal Resources
One of the most underutilized resources may be the person in the right seat, even if the passenger has no flying experience. When appropriate, the PIC can ask passengers to assist with certain tasks, such as watching for traffic or reading checklist items.

SRM (2)

When possible, have a passenger reconfirm that critical tasks are completed.

A passenger can assist the PIC by:
• Providing information in an irregular situation, especially if familiar with flying. A strange smell or sound may alert a passenger to a potential problem.
• Confirming after the pilot that the landing gear is down.
• Learning to look at the altimeter for a given altitude in a descent.
• Listening to logic or lack of logic.

Also, the process of a verbal briefing (which can happen whether or not passengers are aboard) can help the PIC in the decision-making process. For example, assume a pilot provides his passenger a briefing of the forecasted landing weather before departure. When the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) is picked up at the destination and the weather has significantly changed, the integration of this report and forecasted weather causes the pilot to explain to a passenger the significance or insignificance of the disparity.The pilot must provide a cohesive analysis and explanation that is understood by the passenger. Telling passengers everything is okay when the weather is a ¼ mile away is not fooling anyone. Therefore, the integration of briefing passengers is of great value in giving them a better understanding of a situation. Other valuable internal resources  include ingenuity, solid aviation knowledge, and flying skill.

When flying alone, another internal resource is verbal communication. It has been established that verbal communication reinforces an activity; touching an object
while communicating further enhances the probability an activity has been accomplished. For this reason, many solo pilots read the checklist out loud; when they reach critical items, they touch the switch or control. For example, to ascertain the landing gear is down, the pilot can read the checklist and hold the gear handle down until there are three green lights. This tactile process of verbally communicating coupled with a physical action are most beneficial.

It is necessary for a pilot to have a thorough understanding of all the equipment and systems in the aircraft being flown. Lack of knowledge, such as knowing if the oil pressure
gauge is direct reading or uses a sensor, is the difference between making a wise decision or poor one that leads to a tragic error.

Checklists are essential flight-deck internal resources. They are used to verify that aircraft instruments and systems are checked, set, and operating properly. They also ensure the proper procedures are performed if there is a system malfunction or inflight emergency. Students reluctant to use checklists can be reminded that pilots at all levels of experience refer to checklists and that the more advanced the aircraft is, the more crucial checklists become. In addition, the pilot’s operating handbook (POH) is required to be carried on board the aircraft and is essential for accurate flight planning and resolving inflight equipment malfunctions. However, the ability to manage workload is the most valuable resource a pilot has.

External Resources
Air traffic controllers and AFSS (automated flight service stations) are the best external resources during flight. In order to promote the safe, orderly flow of air traffic around airports and along flight routes, the ATC provides pilots with traffic advisories, radar vectors, and assistance in emergency situations. Although it is the PIC’s responsibility to make the flight as safe as possible, a pilot with a problem can request assistance from ATC.  For example, if a pilot needs to level off, be given a vector, or decrease speed, ATC assists and becomes integrated as part of the crew. The services provided by ATC can not only decrease pilot workload, but also help pilots make informed in-flight decisions.

The AFSS are air traffic facilities that provide pilot briefing, en route communications, VFR search and rescue services, assist lost aircraft and aircraft in emergency situations, relay ATC clearances, originate Notices to Airmen (NOTAM), broadcast aviation weather and National Airspace System (NAS) information, receive and process IFR flight plans, and monitor navigational aids (NAVAIDs). In addition, at selected locations, AFSS provide En Route Flight Advisory Service (Flight Watch), issue airport advisories, and advise Customs and Immigration of transborder flights. Selected AFSS in Alaska also provide Transcribed Weather En Route Broadcast (TWEB) recordings and take weather observations.

Another external resource available to pilots is the very high frequency (VHF) Direction Finder (VHF/DF). This is one of the common systems that helps pilots without their awareness of its operation. FAA facilities that provide VHF/DF service are identified in the airport/facility directory (A/FD). DF equipment has long been used to locate lost aircraft and to guide aircraft to areas of good weather or to airports. DF instrument approaches may be given to aircraft in a distress or urgent condition.

Experience has shown that most emergencies requiring DF assistance involve pilots with little flight experience. With this in mind, DF approach procedures provide maximum flight stability in the approach by using small turns and wings level descents. The DF specialist gives the pilot headings to fly and tells the pilot when to begin a descent. If followed, the headings lead the aircraft to a predetermined point such as the DF station or an airport. To become familiar with the procedures and other benefits of DF, pilots are urged to request practice DF guidance and approaches in VFR weather conditions.

5P Approaching to the Single-pilot Resource Management.

SRM is about how to gather information, analyze it, and make decisions. Learning how to identify problems, analyze the information, and make informed and timely decisions is not as straightforward as the training involved in learning specific maneuvers. Learning how to judge a situation and “how to think” in the endless variety of situations encountered while flying out in the “real world” is more difficult.

SRM sounds good on paper, but it requires a way for pilots to understand and use it in their daily flights. To get the greatest benefit from SRM, you also need a practical framework for application in day-to-day flying. One practical application is called the Five Ps (5 Ps). Such approach involves regular evaluation of Plan, Plane, Pilot, Passengers, and Programming.

Each of these areas consists of a set of challenges and opportunities that face a single pilot. Each can substantially increase or decrease the risk of successfully completing the
flight based on the pilot’s ability to make informed and timely decisions. The 5 Ps are used to evaluate the pilot’s current situation at key decision points during the flight or when an
emergency arises. These decision points include preflight, pre-takeoff, hourly or at the midpoint of the flight, pre-descent, and just prior to the final approach fix or for VFR operations, just prior to entering the traffic pattern.

SRM (3)

The 5Ps are applied to various points in the flight to make a critical safety decision, prior to and during the flight.

The 5 Ps are based on the idea that the pilots have essentially five variables that impact their environment and can cause the pilot to make a single critical decision or several less
critical decisions that when added together can create a critical outcome. This concept stems from the belief that current decision-making models tended to be reactionary in
nature. A change has to occur and be detected to drive a risk management decision by the pilot. For instance, many pilots use risk management sheets that are filled out by the pilot
prior to takeoff. These form a catalog of risks that may be encountered that day and turn them into numerical values. If the total exceeds a certain level, the flight is altered or
canceled. Informal research shows that while these are useful documents for teaching risk factors, they are almost never used outside of formal training programs. The 5P concept is an attempt to take the information contained in those sheets and in other available models and put it to good use.

The point of the 5P approach is not to memorize yet another aviation mnemonic. You might simply write these words on your kneeboard, or add a reference to 5Ps to your checklist for key decision points during the flight. These include preflight, pre-takeoff, cruise, pre-descent, and just prior to the final approach fix or, for VFR operations, just prior to entering the traffic pattern.

Items to consider in association with the 5Ps might include the following:

The plan includes the basic elements of cross-country planning: weather, route, fuel, current publications, etc. The plan also includes all the events that surround the flight and allow the pilot to accomplish the mission. The pilot should review and update the plan at regular intervals in the flight, bearing in mind that any of the factors in the original plan can change at any time.

The plane includes the airframe, systems, and equipment, including avionics. The pilot should be proficient in the use of all installed equipment as well as familiar with the aircraft/equipment’s performance characteristics and limitations. As the flight proceeds, the pilot should monitor the aircraft’s systems and instruments in order to detect any abnormal indications at the earliest opportunity.

SRM (4)

The plane consists of not only the normal mechanical components but also the many advanced systems and software that
supports it.

The pilot needs to pass the traditional “IMSAFE” checklist (see below). This part of the 5P process helps a pilot to identify and mitigate physiological hazards at all stages of the flight.

I'm Safe (4)

Making sure a pilot is ready to perform to a high standard is as important as the aircraft—maybe more!

I'm safe (2)

Another version of the I’m safe checklist

The passengers can be a great help to the pilot by performing tasks such as those listed earlier. However, passenger needs — e.g., physiological discomfort, anxiety about the flight, or desire to reach the destination — can create potentially dangerous distractions. If the passenger is a pilot, it is also important to establish who is doing what. The
5P approach reminds the pilot-in-command to consider and account for these factors.

The programming can refer to both panel mounted and hand-held equipment. Today’s
electronic instrument displays, moving map navigators, and autopilots can reduce pilot workload and increase pilot situational awareness. However, the task of programming or operating both installed and handheld equipment (e.g., tablets) can create a serious distraction from other flight duties. This part of the 5P approach reminds the pilot to mitigate this risk by having a thorough understanding of the equipment long before takeoff, and by planning in advance when and where the programming for approaches, route changes, and airport information gathering should be accomplished, as well as times it should not be attempted.

Whatever SRM approach you choose, use it consistently and remember that solid SRM skills can significantly enhance the safety of “crew of you” flights.

1. FAA Risk Management Handbook (Chapter 6)

2. Advisory Circular 120-51E, Crew Resource Management Training

3. General Aviation Joint Steering Committee Safety Enhancement Topic, March 2015. Produced by FAA Safety Briefing


minime2By Laura Duque-Arrubla, a medical doctor with postgraduate studies in Aviation Medicine, Human Factors and Aviation Safety. In the aviation field since 1988, Human Factors instructor since 1994. Follow me on facebook Living Safely with Human Error and twitter@dralaurita. Human Factors information almost every day 


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