Premium on Safety - Issue 51, 2024 - 2

USAIG MESSAGE
FLYING LONELY
Aviation borrowed from our seafaring
heritage when learning to crew
aircraft. Like a ship's captain, a pilot
in command (PIC) personally bears
ultimate responsibility for every
voyage. A PIC never owns less than
51 percent of the onboard decision
authority, gets the last word on
where, how, and when the aircraft
goes, and is empowered to adapt
plans. " It's lonely at the top, " as they say. This concentration of
decision power is needed in certain situations but can also limit
opportunities for excellence if viewed too narrowly.
I've served as a ship's conning officer and PIC aboard aircraft.
A key difference between those settings is the depth of " decision
support " readily available to the leader. Aboard ship, there's a
cohort of people collaboratively problem-solving. The captain can
observe during complex maneuvers rather than be a hands-on
participant. This preserves the leader's big-picture perspective and
makes an extra layer of intervention available if the captain steps
in. That's still a singular responsibility. Everyone looks to the captain
for key decisions. But it's augmented by many capable stakeholders
who literally share fate and are motivated to contribute.
I'm not saying a ship captain's job is easier-among many things,
they're also the mayor of the place where everyone lives while at
sea. But PICs have fewer arm's-reach decision support resources.
That feeds the idea that once dispatched, PICs must go it alone.
Some flying organizations simply accept that, while others actively
pursue enhancing decision support for their PICs. The latter tend to
be safer and more capable operators. Go figure. Check out the
lessons learned article later in this issue for more on this theme.
Expanding to more multi-sourced PIC decision-making takes
intentional effort. Rugged individualism has never been scarce in
the pilot persona, but generational shifts are helping to facilitate
change. Elevating CRM across recent decades improved the fusion
of expertise within the aircraft. What's next? Philosophically, PICs can
expand their view of aviation as an enterprise in which they actively
participate rather than just pass through. That means making
an earnest effort to integrate all available information into their
decisions: pilot weather and ride reports, advice from peers or crews
of preceding aircraft, runway condition updates, or ATC insights. It
also means professionally making timely and complete reports of
their own observations to help the enterprise be better informed.
How would your outfit view a PIC at an interim stop phoning
the chief pilot or a peer to discuss options for managing issues
confronting the next leg? Would it be weird if it was the chief
or other senior pilot seeking a second opinion? Organizations
where this happens routinely and without any stigma are
leading the way. If that's not characteristic of where you
fly now, simply suggesting that people do it probably won't
generate big change. But borrowing from another highconsequence
profession might help. Group case reviews are a
staple in medicine. The care teams' actions for a mix of unusual
and randomly selected routine cases get rehashed. Done
constructively, everyone gains insight into what worked (or didn't)
and, with the benefit of hindsight, sees what the whole group
views as the best solution. This informs future choices.
Consider holding a monthly team review of at least one trip.
Have the crew discuss the trip's goals, issues they confronted, and
the decisions they made. Keep it collegial and encourage questions
and discussion of alternatives or opportunities. Poll for ideas on
things to adjust next time. Choose unusual or complex trips but mix in
routine ones, because important insights exist in those, too. Plug this
into your safety promotion routine and see what changes it fosters.
When it comes to leading and making decisions-even for
PICs-lonely is one approach. It's not the best one.
Stay well, fly smart, and fly safe.
Paul Ratté
Director of Aviation Safety Programs, USAIG
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