It All Began in a Classroom ...

The origins of CRM can be found almost exclusively in the classroom, with a specific emphasis on awareness raising and knowledge development seminars. A typical initial CRM course consisted of several days in the classroom, with instructional techniques limited to lectures, case studies, videos of accident re-enactments and role-play exercises.8,9

The initial Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) advisory circulars on CRM training emphasised the role of what was notably referred to as ‘indoctrination/awareness’ training. The implication of the way in which early CRM training was conceptualised was that once flight crew were exposed to the doctrine of CRM, there would be attitudinal change, which then would result in enhanced crew behaviour on the flight deck.10

In 1986, NASA hosted another workshop in this area, the Cockpit Resource Management Training Workshop. This time, the workshop was much more focussed on sharing experiences of airlines across the globe in developing their CRM programs. Airlines such as United, Continental, Japan Air Lines, Trans Australia Airlines, US Air and Air New Zealand all presented their programs, as well as examples from the military context. At this time, there was much greater synergy between the practitioner and the scientist, and the proceedings show a general sense of excitement at developing innovative programs that could have a very real benefit to flight safety.

This brief history of the birth of non-technical skills training and assessment programs is a celebration of one industry’ s collective response to an emergent safety issue. The early evolution of CRM in such a brief period is the true beginning of current non-technical skills programs today, and the degree to which programs today reflect these beginnings is a testament to the work of those early pioneers.

A decade since the initial NASA workshop, the FAA published the first advisory circular on the topic: AC 120-51 Cockpit Resource Management.11 This document provided guidance on the structure and content of CRM programs, and for the first time the regulator formally recognised the importance of non-technical skills training programs.

By the 1990s, the results of the first efforts to evaluate the tangible effects of crew resource management on actual flight crew performance began to be published. The results of a joint NASA/University of Texas project led by the late Professor Bob Helmreich, published in 1990, revealed that participation in formal CRM training was associated with a higher percentage of crews being rated positively by expert observers in both full mission simulation and observations of everyday flights.12

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