Training Monitoring for Helicopter Technical Crew (Part 2)
The response to my last post underlined how little technical or non-technical material out there is written with the niche skill-set of the helicopter technical crew community in mind. There is certainly an interest and appetite for its consumption among those who play a part in this community.
Taken aback by the interest generated by my last article on monitoring for Technical Crew, I return to the theme to attempt to answer some of the questions that it posed.
As the overall accident rates have dropped steadily, and automatic systems have grown and developed in their ubiquity and reliability in modern aircraft, the causes of accidents in aviation have evolved too. Inevitably, it is not the automatics per se but our interaction with them as aircrew that has become a significant point of failure.
The recognition of this in the airline world followed high profile disasters such as Air France Flight 447 in 2009, which remained stalled for 38,000 feet as it fell into the Atlantic Ocean. The serious concerns that this and other accidents raised about crew monitoring prompted a switch from the terms Pilot Flying & Pilot Non-Flying (PF & PNF) to Pilot Flying and Pilot Monitoring (PF & PM). Pedantic and semantic though this change may seem, it was meant to bring in to focus the absolutely integral and indivisible part of piloting that monitoring is.
With a nod and a wink to this then, I introduce to you, the terms Pilot Flying & Crewman Monitoring (PF & CM):
The ability to monitor the pilot (or pilots) effectively is no less an integral and indivisible part of the role of the helicopter technical crewman.
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)
As I observed previously, there is nothing in the various definitions of monitoring given that a helicopter Technical Crew member does not or could not do in flight. Where I noted that the exception to this might only be the ability to intervene on the flight controls, I stand corrected that even in terms of intervention there are techniques for verbal intervention that could make the difference enough to avert a loss of control event in a single-pilot cockpit. One structured intervention policy that could certainly be put to good effect from anywhere in the aircraft is the acronym PACE. For example:
PROBE: “The rate of descent seems quite high, are you happy with that?”
ALERT: “Rate of descent increasing”
CHALLENGE: “CHECK YOUR RATE OF DESCENT!”
EMERGENCY: “PULL UP! PULL UP!”
The Monitoring Role for Helicopter Technical Crew
If you break down the definition of monitoring given above, there are three parts to it: Observation and interpretation, comparison, and human.
The first part is the observation of the flight path data, configuration status, automation modes and on board systems, appropriate to the phase of flight. From a rear crew perspective, the ability to monitor in this way can be challenging. In a purely practical sense, the ability to observe the flight path data etc. is often compromised from a TC’s physical position in the cabin. However, this does not preclude a wealth of data about the flight being available to them, depending upon aircraft type, role, and fit. It also raises some important questions about where the TC should choose to position himself within the cabin to facilitate the monitoring role during different or critical phases of flight.
For some crews this could even include a decision about whether to sit in the front or the rear of the aircraft. This question was raised during a recent accident investigation in Italy when an AW139 HEMS mission ended in a CFIT in poor weather conditions. The TC chose to remain in the cabin, and despite his attempts to verbally prompt the pilot in the final minute of the flight, he was unable to either assert himself sufficiently or intervene successfully enough to avert the crash into a snowy mountainside in white-out conditions. The Italian ANSV report recommends that in the case of single-pilot helicopters operated for HEMS missions, attention is drawn to the advantages of the HEMS TC occupying the co-pilot’s seating position, and that tasks required by the TC’s role in the passenger cabin are carried out by another suitably trained crew member instead. For a short case study of the accident in English by Aerossurance, follow the link AW139 HEMS accident EC-KJT.
Comparison & Interpretation
Comparison and interpretation is the second part of the definition, which involves making a cognitive comparison against the expected values, modes, and procedures. Like interpreting the flight path data, this is a function of technical knowledge and experience. As TC are not qualified pilots with flight training requirements determined by Part FCL regulation and type rating, their ability to compare and interpret flight data will obviously be reduced in comparison to their colleagues in the front seats. Nevertheless, the knowledge and understanding of systems, procedures, and checklists that can be built up across a career’s-worth of experience in the rear of aircraft is astounding, and can cover the full range of aviation expertise from ATC procedures, airspace, instrument approaches and IFR, and even extremely high levels of aircraft technical knowledge. In this context, the ability to become an expert at monitoring is limited only by the building of experience, coupled with the desire of the TC to learn and take on knowledge relevant to the role.
The third element in the definition is the observation of the other crew members and timely intervention in the event of deviations. In this area the TC can be just as effective as any other member of the crew, and arguably better placed during a high-workload event in the cockpit to monitor the behaviour of the pilot or pilots. Take a breakdown in situation-awareness for example. Being removed from the immediate cockpit environment, which could be the source of the overload of the pilots – both physically and in terms of the stimuli themselves – allows the TC the benefit of the ‘big picture’. This is sometimes called ‘the capacity seat’.
Sometimes the TC’s source of situational awareness is one that the pilots do not have. This was the case in the CFIT accident of Rescue 116 in March 2017, when an Irish SAR S92 crashed into a small island offshore. It was the TC who brought the crew’s attention to the 282ft obstacle of Blackrock in the final seconds of the flight. He had spotted the obstruction because he was scanning the flight path using the FLIR. Unfortunately, his warning did not come early enough to avoid the collision. For more details on this accident, see the Rescue 116 Preliminary Report.
Training and developing Monitoring for the non-pilot members of the crew
A lack of regulation to set-out and standardise training requirements for helicopter TC, coupled with a failure to formally acknowledge the importance of the contribution they make to the crew in terms of monitoring means that, for the time being, the initiative falls to the Operator to establish a proactive approach to promoting the concept of monitoring for rear-crew.
How could the conscientious Operator/Technical Crew Trainer do this?
- Ensure that TC see monitoring as a fundamental part of their training and development and take responsibility for developing their skill set.
- Raise the profile amongst the pilot cadre of the role that TC monitoring has to play, and how it can be supported and aided from the front seat.
- Engage with the company CRM team to pick out elements from literature relevant to monitoring by rear-crew, and facilitate a forum on how to develop the discipline and discuss the challenges it presents.
- Facilitate a joint discussion with pilots and rear crew on what measures could be taken to make it easier for the crew in the back of the aircraft to monitor the flight path and pilot activity.
- Build monitoring skills into Line Training and Checking of TC. Explicit reference should be made to the discipline and behaviours required to improve monitoring during Line Training and Checking, and attention drawn to behaviours which demonstrate good or poor monitoring practices by rear crew.
- Establish the extent of the training gap in monitoring theory and practice between pilots and TC owing to the requirement for pilot training under Part FCL. (For example, the Human Performance Syllabus amongst other areas.)
- Establish the extent of the training gap in monitoring skills taught to, and practiced by pilots during simulator training and LOFT scenarios, and TC who do not benefit in this way. Consider ways to bridge the gap left by simulator training in particular.
“Becoming an expert at monitoring is limited only by the building of experience, coupled with the desire of the TC to learn and take on knowledge relevant to the role.”