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Born to fly?

Not so much

During the 1920s when barnstorming was in its heyday, little was understood about the human element and its limitations related to the rigors of flying.

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Our eyes are not nearly as sharp, nor our perceptions as keen as the avian species we attempted to imitate. There would be decades of trial and error and numerous casualties before we could accept that we—who are inextricably bound in human form with all its possibilities and deficiencies—are not, in fact, born to fly. However, with the right tools and practices, we can learn to fly.

Crew resource management (CRM) is about pilots using every resource available in the most efficient way possible to limit human errors, which account for 60 to 70 percent of all general aviation accidents and more than 50 percent of all GA fatalities (see the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s Joseph T. Nall Report, Whether you’re flying solo or traveling with a companion co-pilot (, CRM is your field guide to organizing your airborne adventures from outside to onboard your aircraft.

What causes errors?

We often use “pilot error” to describe an accident caused by the pilot’s performance, such as one caused by poor training, limited experience, or inadequate proficiency. But humans are also susceptible to aviation accidents caused by a diminished state of physical, mental, or social wellness. As technology evolved through cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders, pilot error became no longer automatically anchored to after-accident reports. Through analysis, it was understood that pilots are people too, with the same fallibilities as someone who works at a checkout counter, although pilot liability is greater.

Why you should care about CRM

The disparity between fatality and accident rates of GA versus commercial aviation is wide. Airlines and business flight departments incorporate CRM into their standard operating procedures, which is only a suggestion for the GA pilot. CRM habits can reduce the gap. It can make us safer.

CRM has been largely shelved in GA. Its chapter in test preparation guides might be cracked open before the knowledge test or check flight, but only a peek. Just enough to shine a light on some keywords or phrases.

What to remember most

There continues to be an expectation that pilots should possess few of the imperfections plaguing their earthbound counterparts. Although these unreasonable notions have somewhat abated in recent years, fatigue, stress, illness, or other human factors are often ignored during preflight or at altitude when mistakes pile up.

No one, not even a pilot, is immune from human error or, on a baser level, the human condition. Although we may try our darndest, it will creep into our cockpit and wreak havoc. The only remedy is awareness. Taking an honest look at the state of our potential for error is the only way to prevent a mishap.

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Terrie Mead

Terrie Mead

Aviation Technical Writer
Terrie Mead is an aviation technical writer for the Air Safety Institute. She currently holds a commercial pilot certificate, a CFI with a sport pilot endorsement, a CFII, and she is multiengine rated.

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