Crew Resource Management

Disclaimer: This lesson diverges significantly from what is covered in the Rotorcraft Flying Handbook, and is based on an HAI Educational Course (Flying in the Wire and Obstruction Environment). The basic text for this, and any modifications to it, may not be consistent with formal training in CRM concepts.


Crew Resource Management (CRM) is the use of all available resources, skills, and experience to provide the information necessary to make flight critical decisions.


Understand how CRM applies to the helicopter flight training environment.


  1. Understanding CRM
  2. Defining the crew in flight training
  3. Crew responsibility
  4. CRM tools
  5. In-flight communications
  6. CRM for students

Instructional aids

None specified


Explaining CRM
  • See the definition in the RFM (p 14-2). Basically it’s making use of all resources that are available to the pilot to ensure the safe completion of the flight.
    • Human resources include the skills, knowledge, and experience of the pilot, copilot/CFI, passengers, ATC, FSS specialists, pilots in other aircraft, etc.
    • Hardware resources include the helicopter and it’s equipment, and all the equipment available to you through the human resources.
    • Informational resources include all of your pre-flight planning, the performance data in the helicopter POH, situational awareness during your flight, any information you can get from your human resources, and your knowledge and experience.
    • What’s available is limited only to your knowledge (eg, how do you contact the nearest FSS) and your creativity.
    • Safe completion of the flight, not the mission or the lesson. Sometimes applying CRM means ending a flight prematurely.
  • Critical elements of CRM: Recognize the hazard, Communicate it promptly, and React appropriately.
  • CRM is a formal and mandatory process where the crew communicates flight critical information promptly. For example:
    • Positive exchange of aircraft controls between student and CFI: “I have the controls, you have the controls, I have the controls.”
    • Communications on the CTAF: “Municipal Airport Traffic, Helicopter One Alpha Bravo, 5 miles west, 2500 feet, inbound for landing, Municipal Airport.”
    • Communications between crew members: “Wires 2 o’clock. I have the wires.”
    • For general safety information, you should have a formal process. How would you, as a student, communicate to your instructor that you spotted an airplane that was on a collision course with your helicopter and closing quickly? (see here for suggestions.)

For CRM to work, it must be ACCEPTED and EXPECTED.

  • The crew must accept that CRM procedures are a good idea, and what the procedures should be.
  • The crew must have a standing procedure for communicating during the flight, or they must brief that procedure before the flight (except for positive exchange of aircraft controls, most flight schools will not have this).
  • Crew members must expect all members to be responsible for participating in the CRM structure, and the PIC is expected to respond to crew’s flight-critical communications.
  • Possible failures at the Acceptance level include: an instructor that dismisses CRM procedures as stupid or too formal; instructors who don’t view flight training as a real job; crews who do not discuss communication procedures or have standing procedures in place; crews who do not brief passengers/clients on their role in the CRM structure (eg, “Tell me immediately if you see another aircraft that’s getting too close; I might not have seen it.”); not maintaining professionalism in the cockpit.
  • Possible failures at the Expected level can mostly be avoided by Acceptance. If CRM communications are Accepted, the PIC is more likely to respond to a communication than if they aren’t. For example, the pilot-ATC role is accepted. “Traffic 2 o’clock. Descend and turn right!” from ATC will elicit an effective response from the pilot; if CRM is not accepted or expected, the same communication from a student might just result in confusion. When CRM procedures are not expected, the critical communications may be delayed, may be ineffective or subtle (“Heh, guess sitting on the beach catching some rays is out of the question.” vs “Our visibility getting worse. Let’s turn around now.”), may come as a surprise to the pilot, or the pilot may not feel obligated to react to it.
Defining the Flight Crew
  • In flight training, the flight crew is the student and the instructor. Your demo ride is just that (a ride). After that, you are part of the cockpit crew, and you share responsibility with the instructor for the safe completion of the flight with her. Unfortunately, many times a barrier forms between the instructor (who is viewed as a role model and authority figure) and student (who is more likely to trust and defer to the instructor, rather than question her).
  • The flight crew will expand to include other non-aviation professionals as your career advances. This could include a photographer, spotters, reporters, or flight nurses.
Crew Responsibility
  • Verbalize concerns promptly.
  • Ask for information.
  • Suggest a course of action.
  • Don’t fault others for mistakes, don’t be afraid to make a mistake, and admit mistakes.
  • Recognize when another crew member is becoming overwhelmed or is losing their situational awareness (eg, student fatigue during a lesson, or instructor fatigue during a long duty day).
    • Includes non-verbal cues such as fixation or preoccupation, ignoring some information, being overly optimistic, silence.
  • Recognize when critical information is being communicated.
    • “Oklahoma” (Jackass fans might recognize this obscure reference). Have a stop word. In some operations, “Code red” is the stop word that any crew member can use to terminate an operation. We all have stop words, but if they aren’t formalized, accepted, and expected, they are hard to recognize.
    • ATC is a model: usually they only convey critical information, and there are some phrases that indicate that they mean it (“…traffic alert…turn immediately”).
    • Non-pilots, or crews that have not accepted/do not expect CRM communications will be non-confrontational, subtle, and may use humor. They will usually only voice their concern long after they’ve become uncomfortable with the situation. For example, “I’m not comfortable with this,” “This sucks,” or “Something isn’t right” could represent a serious concern.
    • Pilots may communicate a loss of situational awareness or concerns subtly: “I’m pretty busy right now,” “What do you think of those clouds ahead?”
  • In single pilot operations, this means listening to that inner voice and gut feelings.
CRM Tools

CRM tools ensure that communications are received.

  • Do a pre-flight briefing.
    • Review of CRM procedures that are specific to the flight (eg, “Today we’ll be practicing autorotations. Before initiating an autorotation, give me a 3 count: auto in 3-2-1.”)
    • Set expectations for those communications: eg, “While we’re practicing autos today, if at any time during the procedure either of us isn’t comfortable with it, say so and we will immediately bring the power back on and recover.”
    • Define crew members responsibilities.
    • Identify any risks that are specific to the flight or the lesson.
  • Use Challenge and Command method, either escalating through these steps or skipping to the appropriate step as the situation warrants:
    • Advise of the danger in a firm voice.
    • Warn again with an increase in tone if no response.
    • Issue a firm command.
    • For example: instead of “Whatta think about this weather?”, say “We’re starting to lose visibility.” If necessary, change to “We’re in danger of going inadvertent–divert now!”
  • Touch. Sometimes physical contact is enough to break a communication barrier. (The example I heard for this was a flight nurse putting his hand on the pilot’s shoulder and saying something.)
  • Debrief the flight to identify what worked and what didn’t.
In-flight Communications
  • When concerns or challenges are verbalized, ensure that they are acknowledged: (“Do you have the helicopter traffic, 2 o’clock, 3 miles and climbing?” “I have the traffic.”)
  • When a crew member asks a question, an answer is expected.
  • Use sterile cockpit procedures during critical phases of flight. This includes not giving or accepting a critique of a maneuver while setting up for another.
  • Be assertive when necessary, and use the challenge and command method as appropriate.
CRM for Students
  • Demo rides set a lot of bad precedents. Usually you chatter during the entire flight. You’re overwhelmed with the controls and the excitement of it all. You are looking to the instructor to ensure the safety of the flight. That habit needs to be broken after your demo flight.
  • Ask your instructor about sterile cockpit procedures. Usually the chatter starts once the engine is running, and continues during taxi, take off, and through the pattern. These are all critical phases of flight where a missed communication or a distraction can result in an incident.
  • Accept instruction and criticism for flight maneuvers only when it is safe and efficient to receive it. This means a full pre-flight briefing (not 5 minutes on the ramp) and a full post-flight debriefing (not while you’re walking back to the hangar). During a lesson, this might mean setting the aircraft down. Consider the quality of the critique you’re getting if the instructor is flying while delivering the critique, and your ability to make good use of that critique while in the cockpit.
  • Establish a procedure for CRM with your instructor that gives you authority in the cockpit. For me, I would verbalize my concern (“Airplane turning onto our taxiway.”) and state my action (“Making a go-around.”). My instructor might provide feedback (“Okay. I woulda just landed at the next intersection, but a go-around is fine.”) or would take the controls. This needs to be something that you discuss with your instructor, maybe several times during your training. You don’t wan’t to be constantly deferring to your instructor (“Airplane on the taxiway. Should I go-around?”), but you also need to set up a procedure that ensures that he is comfortable with you exercising authority over the flight.
  • You have the responsibility to terminate a maneuver or a flight. Your instructor should respect you enough to act on your concerns. You can always discuss the decision back at the airport.
  • Set a plan for every flight and stick to it. If you complete the plan and have time left over, go back to the ramp. If you have to change plans in flight, your alert level should go up a notch. Going out to “Just practice some maneuvers” is inefficient and can set you up for problems (like not having TFRs and NOTAMS for an unanticipated flight out of the pattern).
  • Acknowledge instructions just like you’d acknowledge ATC communications. If your instructor tells you to “Climb up to 3000 feet and let’s set up for another auto,” you should reply “Climb to 3000.”

Real-life advice and experience


Additional resources

  • Scenario 1: In this case, saying “Do you have the airplane?” isn’t going to be effective. “Airplane, 3 o’clock and closing!” or “Airplane, 3 o’clock and closing! Descend now!” would be more appropriate.
  • The FAA has done a disservice to the value of CRM by placing it in Chapter 14 of the RFM. Some CRM lessons are integrated early in training (positive exchange of controls, if the instructor accepts the “I have/You have/I have” routine is one good example), but others are never formally discussed. Without getting CRM concepts out into the open and providing early, formal training, the student goes through most of his initial flight training in a position where he doesn’t have responsibility for the safety of the flight, but may only occasionally be given that authority. First, this weakens the concept of crew responsibility, and second, it excludes limits the opportunities where the student can make flight-critical decisions. In my case, ADM/CRM was a hurried stage 4 ground lesson that was just one more lesson to get signed off on so I could take my check ride. Yeah, the chief pilot said it was important, but I was 95% through my training by then. For CRM to be truly integrated into a pilot’s training, it should be one of the initial lessons, so that the principles can be applied from the earliest flights and throughout PPL training.
  • More than you ever wanted to know about Situational Awareness, from the USCG. Take a look at the 2-Challenge Rule.

7 thoughts on “Crew Resource Management”

  1. Pingback: Two New Lessons |
  2. Yo Chris, as usual, I agree and disagree with your comments and view of CRM and judging its importance as to its placement in manuals.

    First, I agree that it is MOST important to integrate CRM/SRM/SA/ADM & RM from the very beginning. It is the responsibility of the CFI to do this and instill the importance of this in new/training pilots but within the correct moments and amounts. Unfortunately, we still are on the blind leading the blind training regimen. You know I am actively working to change this along with others like the FAASTeam, NTSB, IHST, HAI and insurance companies. How many pilots/CFIs were taught the three phases of Situational Awareness(SA) and carried this knowledge forward to their students?

    Now for some disagreement/comments. Because it is in Chap. 14 of RFM(pg 14-1 to 14-9) or Chap. 17(17-1 to 17-32) of PHAK 8083-25A does not mean that is its listed level of importance. New flight students are faced with information overload and probably could not correlate how CRM/SRM/SA/ADM & RM integrated into a basic training flight if they read it first! Why 9 pages in Chap. 14 and 32 pages in Chap. 17???? Is it less important in Chap. 17 but has almost 4 times as many pages?

    The entire Industry(agencies listed above) are working to change the acceptance and training of CRM/SRM/SA/ADM & RM because of its importance in accident reduction. Also, the use of Scenario Based Training and use of a Learner Grading System need to be incorporated along with CRM/etc.

    Now for more agreement. You know you are respected by experienced pilots and mentors because you go beyond a CFI (and now i got it) rating and continue to try to improve both training and knowledge bases for new and up and coming pilots. Judging the imortance of chapter placement in books/publications is something no one should do. Training manuals are not always meant to be read front to back and this shows the value of ground school assignments by knowledgeable CFIs and a structured curriculum over “I can do it” and save money studying!

    Hopefully both your text and my comments will help everyone get some great training.

    1. You’ve made my point better than I did Mike:

      It is the responsibility of the CFI to do this and instill the importance of this in new/training pilots but within the correct moments and amounts.

      And you’re also right that it wasn’t fair of me to judge the FAA’s intent by how they ordered the chapters. My point though is that something subtle to a writer (like the order of a chapter or the number of pages devoted to a topic) can have unintended consequences down the line. The easiest thing for a school or CFI to do is just go chapter after chapter, page by page. For a CFI to really teach many of the lessons a new pilot has to learn, he should probably be going back, forth, and all over a number of books, constantly drawing on a large pool of knowledge.

      And that’s the impact of your last comment, if I can rephrase it a little: the value of a knowledgeable CFI and a structured curriculum should be that he delivers all that (sometimes illogically ordered) information in the books to you, the student, at the right time and in the right way. Thanks for keeping check on me.

      Mike’s taught me a lot both about the mechanical and mental aspects of flying, and the eye-opening that I got after talking with Mike was part of the inspiration behind this site. Throughout his career he’s made an effort to mentor new pilots. Lately, he’s been developing a seminar series to help bridge the gap between CFI training and–for lack of a better way of saying it–flying in the real world.

  3. The info here about crew resource management certainly sounds valuable. I am new to the concept. I think that the person who created this is very organized.

    1. Absolutely! The problem with “personal” stop words is that they understate how serious or concerned you are. “Uh, I don’t like this” to you might be “Jesus! We need to turn around now or I’m going to soil my pants!!!” To somebody else, especially if they’re wrapped up in a situation, that meaning might not come across. I’d be interested to hear where you’re coming from Philip…I think stop words are something that should be introduced as early as primary training, so a student learns that the whole crew has an equal voice.

  4. Good CRM info. I think the most effective part was the scenario you gave “In this case, saying “Do you have the airplane?” isn’t going to be effective. “Airplane, 3 o’clock and closing!” or “Airplane, 3 o’clock and closing! Descend now!” would be more appropriate.”

    I think this CRM info would be much improved and resonate with readers more with more scenarios like this.

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