Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM) (Part Two)

The Pilot

Flying, especially when used for business transportation, can expose the pilot to high altitude flying, long distance and endurance, and more challenging weather. An advanced avionics aircraft, simply due to its advanced capabilities can expose a pilot to even more of these stresses. The traditional “IMSAFE” checklist is a good start.

The combination of late night, pilot fatigue, and the effects of sustained flight above 5,000 feet may cause pilots to become less discerning, less critical of information, less decisive, and more compliant and accepting. Just as the most critical portion of the flight approaches (for instance, a night instrument approach in the weather after a 4-hour flight), the pilot’s guard is down the most. The 5P process helps a pilot recognize the physiological situation at the end of the flight before takeoff, and continues to update personal conditions as the flight progresses. Once risks are identified, the pilot is in an infinitely better place to make alternate plans that lessen the effect of these factors and provide a safer solution.


The Passengers

One of the key differences between CRM and SRM is the way passengers interact with the pilot. The pilot of a high capability single-engine aircraft has entered into a very personal relationship with the passengers. In fact, the pilot and passengers sit within an arm’s reach all of the time.

The desire of the passengers to make airline connections or important business meetings enters easily into this pilot’s decision-making loop. Done in a healthy and open way, this can be a positive factor. Consider a flight to Dulles Airport and the passengers, both close friends and business partners, need to get to Washington, D.C., for an important meeting. The weather is VFR all the way to southern Virginia, then turns to low IFR as the pilot approaches Dulles. A pilot employing the 5P approach might consider reserving a rental car at an airport in northern North Carolina or southern Virginia to coincide with a refueling stop. Thus, the passengers have a way to get to Washington, and the pilot has an out to avoid being pressured into continuing the flight if the conditions do not improve.

Passengers can also be pilots. If no one is designated as pilot in command (PIC) and unplanned circumstances arise, the decision-making styles of several self-confident pilots may conflict.

Pilots also need to understand that non-pilots may not understand the level of risk involved in the flight. There is an element of risk in every flight. That is why SRM calls it risk management, not risk elimination. While a pilot may feel comfortable with the risk present in a night IFR flight, the passengers may not. A pilot employing SRM should ensure the passengers are involved in the decision-making and given tasks and duties to keep them busy and involved. If, upon a factual description of the risks present, the passengers decide to buy an airline ticket or rent a car, then a good decision has generally been made. This discussion also allows the pilot to move past what he or she thinks the passengers want to do and find out what they actually want to do. This removes self-induced pressure from the pilot.

The Programming

The advanced avionics aircraft adds an entirely new dimension to the way GA aircraft are flown. The electronic instrument displays, GPS, and autopilot reduce pilot workload and increase pilot situational awareness. While programming and operation of these devices are fairly simple and straightforward, unlike the analog instruments they replace, they tend to capture the pilot’s attention and hold it for long periods of time. To avoid this phenomenon, the pilot should plan in advance when and where the programming for approaches, route changes, and airport information gathering should be accomplished as well as times it should not. Pilot familiarity with the equipment, the route, the local air traffic control environment, and personal capabilities vis-à-vis the automation should drive when, where, and how the automation is programmed and used.

The pilot should also consider what his or her capabilities are in response to last-minute changes of the approach (and the reprogramming required) and ability to make large-scale changes (a reroute for instance) while hand flying the aircraft. Since formats are not standardized, simply moving from one manufacturer’s equipment to another should give the pilot pause and require more conservative planning and decisions.

The SRM process is simple. At least five times before and during the flight, the pilot should review and consider the “Plan, the Plane, the Pilot, the Passengers, and the Programming” and make the appropriate decision required by the current situation. It is often said that failure to make a decision is a decision. Under SRM and the 5 Ps, even the decision to make no changes to the current plan is made through careful consideration of all the risk factors present.


Information Management

The volume of information presented in aviation training is enormous, but part of the process of good SRM is a continuous flow of information in and actions out. How a student manages the flow of information definitely has an effect on the relative success or failure of each and every flight because proper information contributes to valid decisions. SBT plays an important part in teaching the student how to gather pertinent information from all available sources, make appropriate decisions, and assess the actions taken.

For a transitioning pilot, the primary flight display (PFD), multifunction display (MFD), and GPS/very high frequency (VHF) navigator screens seem to offer too much information presented in colorful menus and submenus. In fact, the student may be overwhelmed and unable to find a specific piece of information. The first critical information management skill for flying with advanced avionics is to understand the system at a conceptual level. Remembering how the system is organized helps the pilot manage the available information. Simulation software and books on the specific system used are of great value in furthering understanding for both the CFI and the student.

Another critical information management skill is reading. The best strategy for accessing and managing the available information from PFD to navigational charts is to stop, look, and read. The goal is for the student to learn how to monitor, manage, and prioritize the information flow to accomplish specific tasks.

Task Management (TM)

Task management (TM), a significant factor in flight safety, is the process by which pilots manage the many, concurrent tasks that must be performed to safely and efficiently fly a modern aircraft. A task is a function performed by a human, as opposed to one performed by a machine (e.g., setting the target heading in the autopilot).

The flight deck is an environment in which potentially many important tasks compete for pilot attention at any given time. TM determines which of perhaps many concurrent tasks the pilot(s) attend to at any particular point in time. More specifically, TM entails initiation of new tasks; monitoring of ongoing tasks to determine their status; prioritization of tasks based on their importance, status, urgency, and other factors; allocation of human and machine resources to high-priority tasks; interruption and subsequent resumption of lower priority tasks; and termination of tasks that are completed or no longer relevant.

Humans have a limited capacity for information. Once information flow exceeds a person’s ability to mentally process the information, any additional information becomes unattended or displaces other tasks and information already being processed. Once the information flow reaches its limit, two alternatives exist: shed the unimportant tasks or perform all tasks at a less than optimal level. Like an electrical circuit being overloaded, either the consumption must be reduced or a circuit failure is experienced. Once again, SBT helps the student learn how to effectively manage tasks and properly prioritize them.


Automation Management

Automation management is the demonstrated ability to control and navigate an aircraft by means of the automated systems installed in the aircraft. One of the most important concepts of automation management is knowing when to use it and when not to use it. Ideally, the goal of the flight instructor is to train the student until he or she has learned how to perform PTS maneuvers and procedures in the aircraft, using all the available automation and/or the autopilot. However, the flight instructor must ensure the student also knows how to turn everything off and hand fly the maneuver when the safety of the flight is threatened.

Advanced avionics offers multiple levels of automation, from strictly manual flight to highly automated flight. No one level of automation is appropriate for all flight situations, but in order to avoid potentially dangerous distractions when flying with advanced avionics, the student must know how to manage the course indicator, the navigation source, and the autopilot. It is important for a student to know the peculiarities of the particular automated system being used. This ensures the student knows what to expect, how to monitor for proper operation, and promptly take appropriate action if the system does not perform as expected.

At the most basic level, managing the autopilot means knowing at all times which modes are engaged and which modes are armed to engage. The student needs to verify that armed functions (e.g., navigation tracking or altitude capture) engage at the appropriate time. Automation management is a good place to practice the callout technique, especially after arming the system to make a change in course or altitude.