Training Monitoring for Helicopter Technical Crew


I have been asked to deliver training on Monitoring to Technical Crew as part of a bespoke course to qualify them to assist single-pilot operations from the front seat. After considering how to approach the session and content I have been left asking more questions than I started with.

Being a fan of simplicity, I tried to start at the beginning by finding an answer to the first and most obvious question: 

What is monitoring?

The observation and interpretation of the flight path data, configuration status, automation modes and on board systems appropriate to the phase of flight. It involves a cognitive comparison against the expected values modes, and procedures. It also includes observation of the other crew member and timely intervention in the event of deviation.

(Definition given in CAA Paper 2013-02 Monitoring Matters)

There is nothing in that definition that a helicopter Technical Crew member does not or could not do in flight. Except for the last part (i.e. intervention). But this definition, like most of the material on monitoring, is only written with pilots in mind.

In my mind, Technical Crew are flight crew, and as such they have much more in common with pilots than they do with airline cabin crew, despite the fact that in a regulatory sense they are only beginning to be properly distinguished. (It is worth noting that the EASA definition of Flight Crew does not include crew members outside the cockpit.) In any case, most people would agree that as an integral part of any crew, and in accordance with the core principles of CRM, there is an important monitoring role for Technical Crew. 

So how should we train monitoring for the non-pilot members of the crew?

There is very little guidance on this. The most in depth material on monitoring from the Authority is the 2013 CAA Paper Monitoring Matters. However even its title – “Guidance on the Development of Pilot Monitoring” – gives away the fact that the focus of the research and material does not extend beyond the cockpit.

The requirement to teach monitoring in the ground training environment is limited to its presence as an item on the EASA CRM training syllabus, which of course applies to all aircrew alike. Nevertheless, CAP 737 The Flight Crew Human Factors Handbook (and the key reference publication for CRM) only discusses the topic with reference to pilots, and does not widen the perspective to consider monitoring as a whole crew concept. As we noted earlier, the EASA definition of Flight Crew is limited to pilots only, and so by that measure, the Flight Crew HF Handbook is itself only written with pilots in mind, despite the applicability of CRM training to many other types of crew member in the modern aviation environment.

For the sake of a discussion on monitoring by technical crew it is probably worth highlighting the two spheres in which a TC plays a monitoring role in most helicopter operations. The first, and most common, is through their capacity as a rear-crew member of the flight crew, and the second as a stand in for the co-pilot role while operating in the front seat (as for example is common in single pilot HEMS operations).

While it is useful to distinguish between front-seat TC operators, and TC monitoring of multi-pilot operations from the back of the aircraft, is there actually any fundamental difference in the monitoring skill-sets that we are asking them to use? 

What are the challenges to effective monitoring by technical crew?

How might monitoring flight parameters, automatics, and situation awareness from the cabin differ from the same discipline in the cockpit? If anything, do these differences present extra challenges for monitoring from the rear of the aircraft, and if so, how should we be addressing them?

If we can’t identify any differences between the skills and techniques required by technical crew to monitor effectively, and those used in the front seats, then do we need to distinguish training for TC in monitoring from training for pilots at all, or is it fundamentally the same discipline?

Perhaps ‘monitoring’ is a term that has only been developed to refer to activity within the cockpit, despite the definition provided above? Can we still call it monitoring if it is outside the cockpit? Or then does it become just good CRM? Some might say that as a skill set, it just refers to a comprehensive use of good CRM behaviours by rear-crew to keep tabs on the phase of flight, the workload management of the pilots, their SA, the automatics, the flight parameters etc.

What level of monitoring should be expected from Technical Crew?

Is the ability of a TC to monitor effectively more dependent upon the CRM of the pilot and the way information and thought processes are shared and communicated within the aircraft or is it more a function of the experience and ability of the TC themselves?

Is your ability to monitor effectively proportionate to your knowledge of the aircraft and its systems, your knowledge of procedures and checklists, and your airmanship and experience? Take as a particular example having an understanding of the modes of automatics in modern aircraft.

Does a formalised role in the front seat of the aircraft require any additional training in the particular discipline of monitoring? If so, how should this be standardised? 

What role should technical crewmen be playing in monitoring the flight? To what extent do Technical Crew Trainers evaluate the monitoring skills of TCs in the training and checking environment? Is explicit reference made to monitoring as part of TC CRM assessment?

CRM is defined in CAP 737 as “The effective use of all available resources, equipment, procedures, supporting services and, above all, people to perform a task as efficiently and safely as possible”.

Many of the Technical Crew that I have worked with are considerably more experienced aviators than the pilots that they fly with. Are we failing to make best use of one of our key resources by not paying sufficient attention to the role they have to play in keeping us safe airborne? Is there a need to raise the profile of monitoring from a rear-crew perspective, and if so, how should it be done?

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