Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally Speaking

Peer pressure works

Discouraging distracting cockpit chatter

I recently read the NTSB cockpit voice-recorder transcript from last year's crash on takeoff of a Comair Bombardier CRJ-100 in Lexington, Kentucky. Many of you will remember the basics of this accident. The crew of two attempted takeoff on the wrong, shorter runway, crashing into trees shortly after liftoff.

After the accident, many of us debated how two pilots with a panel full of electronics could take off on the wrong runway. Subsequent detail and now this transcript throw a lot of information on the table.

This was no sterile cockpit. During the entire transcript, the crew talked of this, that, and the other, but most of it was not about their flight. Most of the conversation was chatter about possible better jobs in the industry--who was hiring, who wasn't, what was required by the airlines in question. It showed a great knowledge of the industry, but an appalling lack of interest in the flight in question. You needn't take my word for this. Read the transcript for yourself.

Folks, perhaps it's time for everyone in the industry to get serious about cockpit resource management (CRM).

Peer pressure is one of the most powerful forces. A lot of people smoked, until peer pressure--not health--made most of us quit. As the peer pressure got even worse, even more of us quit. I don't know about the other nicotine fiends, but I started smoking in high school when it was cool. Some of the most glamorous people on earth, movie stars, smoked onscreen. All of my cool friends smoked. I took up the habit, became an addict, and didn't get away from it for more than 30 years, when smoking was definitely not cool but disgusting and vile.

That kind of peer pressure among crews could eliminate idle chitchat in cockpits, and it should start with CFIs teaching it for every level, from student to ATP.

The beginning student should learn on lesson one that we are serious about flying. Confession: Thirty years ago I was a major offender. I smoked while flying, chewed tobacco, told jokes, and wisecracked on the radio--and I was chastised by fellow pilots whom I admired.

Nobody influences beginning pilots more than CFIs. I hope you will jump on this and get the ball rolling.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying since 1971 and has more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating. Visit his Web site.

By Ralph Hood

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