CRM for Dummies

The subject is usually doomed from the start for those of us who get it in safety training or any other aviation related course. Often it is tucked in right after lunch to ease you into the afternoon and few pay attention. Quick: What is CRM anyway? CRM’s primary purpose is to make optimum use of ALL resources available to promote enhanced situational awareness, teamwork and communication to enhance safe and efficient operations. Sounds great right? Too bad it often stays right there in the classroom… Thankfully most operations have discreetly built CRM into their daily SOPs and checklists, but it can really fall apart when you have that “player to be named later” join you. I’m talking about the contract third crewmember, the wild card in the equation. Some operations have a well-oiled machine and handle this in stride as a daily occurrence. Others act as if the person isn’t there, sort of the “denial” approach. As with most situations in aviation, if you take a few minutes to think through it before it happens, chances are you’ll handle it in a way that enhances the entire mission’s safety and operation as a cohesive unit. This isn’t hard, it’s every day common sense cleverly disguised as a scientific principal, so let’s take a look at some simple ways we can all work together to make each trip safer, not to mention more pleasant!


  1. Before the Trip:


Schedulers, Dispatchers, Brokers and Flight Attendants are all gathering information about the trip from the client and importing it directly into a database. This is the basis for the trip sheet. An example of good communication among this group is when the aircraft owner or operator requests background information on the Flight Attendant that the client wishes to use. The Flight Attendant forwards her resume and qualifications to the Broker or Schedulers and Dispatchers and they include this information in with the trip sheet for the crew. Often for legal reasons the third crewmember must be listed on the trip sheet as a Cabin Attendant or simply “passenger.” This additional information gives the crew a more complete picture of who is working with them. It’s a good idea for the PIC to send a quick email to the new crewmember, time permitting, introducing the crew and advising of any details. This opens the door for communications and sets the stage for cooperation. As a third crewmember, I usually like to respond with my contact information in case things change at the last minute and a crew profile sheet (what they like to eat, what phase of flight they do or don’t like to eat, etc.) so I feel prepared to flow with their operation as smoothly as possible as if I always work with them.



  1. The Meeting


Maybe there isn’t time for that much detail before the first meeting, so the day of the trip you have to make the most of that introduction. When you meet each other, take a moment to explain your backgrounds a little. If the company has not passed good information on to the crew, they have no idea whether the third crewmember is an egress trained safety asset or a waitress. This is also the time for the PIC or SIC to step into the leadership role and actually form a team here and brief the new member. A contract crewmember flies on a different aircraft every time. Even if it were a GV every time, which is unlikely, every GV is configured differently in the cabin. Take a moment and start at one end and work to the other and point out the safety equipment. You have to check it every flight anyway, so just make it a tour. A moment now to go over how this entertainment system works will prevent questions during a phase of flight that you don’t want to be interrupted. Explain how you would like to manage an evacuation; preferred signals and commands. Where do you want this person to sit for takeoff and landing? After a good briefing you know you have a valuable asset behind you to assist you in the event of an emergency, and these are things you don’t want to begin explaining when things get sporty.



  1. Working Together


Good communication can simply make the day go smoother for you as well. When you are stowing the luggage, take a moment to find out if the third crewmember is leaving with the clients, staying with the aircraft or leaving by car. Make sure you know the placement of that luggage and don’t send it to the wrong destination. Once the aircraft takes off, that third crewmember goes back into your galley and uses all sorts of things and goes through lots of dishes that are sent into the FBO upon landing in many cases. The crew that stays with the aircraft is responsible though. I always travel with Dish Tag sheets and Galley Re-Stock sheets for this purpose. Since I won’t be there when the dishes come back, I put a list of the dishes to be returned in the galley (and send one in with the dishes to the FBO) so they can easily be checked when the clean dishes come back and I’m not there. I also leave a list of items used in the galley so when the aircraft gets to its restock point it is easy to restock. These forms make for good communication, make everyone’s job easier and are simple to make up for your own aircraft to give to the third crewmember to use on your flights. Third crewmembers, please remember you are a guest in someone else’s home and leave it as you found it, which communicates respect.




  1. Reality


The reality is, CRM can break down at any stage of the process. It can also begin at any level. It’s not a perfect world. There, we have that out of the way so let’s look at times to notice there is a breakdown and what to do. Aircraft operators are the first line of defense in obtaining complete information. They should know the qualifications of this person boarding their aircraft as a cabin attendant or flight attendant, then pass this information along to the crew. The crew needs to know who they are working with, not just weather stats. PICs, if you get a briefing that simply has “cabin attendant” listed, ask questions, start the ball rolling. Crews also need to know complete information as given about passengers with medical issues so they are mentally prepared for possible in-flight emergencies and diversions. If there’s no information about the passenger boarding with supplemental oxygen, ask why he or she uses it. And pets? Make sure the crew knows they are coming on too. It’s all well and good for the broker and the operator to iron this out, but what if the PIC is allergic to cats or afraid of large dogs? On the ramp is not the time for him to see the Doberman bounding up the steps. Third crewmember: if you aren’t comfortable with where everything is on an aircraft, wait for a good moment and ask for a quick briefing. Don’t just hope for the best, that’s how things start to compound and accidents happen.







  1. The Nitty Gritty


For all of you who haven’t briefed anyone in years and are thinking it might not be a bad idea… here’s a few points to get you started. It doesn’t have to be fancy and maybe this could be a jumping off point and you all could round this out for me with your all-time favorites. These are things I just always like to know from the crew when I get on a flight.






  • Location of exits and safety equipment
  • Type/operation of oxygen system
  • Preferred location to sit for takeoff/landing
  • Ready signal for takeoff
  • Evacuation Signal
  • Evacuation duty preferences
  • Who briefs pax if necessary
  • Who collects pax and crew documents

(Time Permitting)

  • Entertainment System rundown
  • Galley rundown
  • Seat/bed operations
  • Tray Table Locations
  • Aircraft Manual Location (so I can look up things myself)
  • Aircraft idiosyncrasies
  • Crew Preferences (Extended sterile cockpit, individual preferences)



Now you can look at CRM in a more practical sense and apply it to your everyday activity. Good communication may not only make us safer on each mission, it can make each trip a lot more enjoyable.


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