How do we train for the next accident…?

By Max Mingay



Training in the commercial world has undergone dramatic evolutions in recent years, bringing clever new ways of designing and delivering more effective training. Sully’s “Miracle on the Hudson” was both an amazing feat of airmanship and crew performance, but also an illustration of the challenge of how to train for the “next accident”. That is, the one that hasn’t happened yet so we don’t know what it will be! Indeed nobody knew that multiple bird strikes and dual engine failure at low altitude followed by an immediate water landing in an A320 was going to happen. Although the crew would have been trained in the individual emergency drills, they certainly weren’t trained in the specific combination of its timing or location.

But they succeeded spectacularly. So, the million-dollar question is - how do we train for the next accident?

In this article, I’d like to give you an insight into the latest training concepts in the commercial world from my day job as a Training Standards Captain for a major airline. Originally a Southdown junior, I started my career with 10 years as a GA instructor. I joined the airlines 21 years ago and have been a Training Captain for the last 16 years, currently specialising in instructor training.

We have had a very unfortunate series of accidents at Parham in recent years, but the great news is that everyone walked away despite the loss of the gliders. Following this, Duncan recently hosted some online ridge workshops which included discussion of a recent accident. During this, I offered a few thoughts on several root causes that were harder to quantify, mentioning the concept of “Competencies”.

Duncan was very interested in how we might use these in gliding so asked me for more information. With more than a little help from Piers-Rex Murray (a fellow airline pilot), we adapted the principle for gliding and gave presentations to a few committee members and senior instructors. This included a modified “Gliding Competency Matrix” which I’ll introduce later and Duncan will talk more about separately.

The Human Factor

Technological advances have significantly improved commercial aircraft reliability since the days of early jet transports. Accidents used to occur more frequently and were often due to technical malfunctions. However, with significant improvements in technology and safety the accident rate has significantly reduced - but now the human element is more likely to be the main factor.

It is easy to measure a pilot’s technical skills such as manual flying, but much less clear with the “non-technical skills” (NOTECHs). The difficulty with the NOTECHs is that you can’t directly see or measure a person’s thought process!

But if you have a list of associated behaviours or indicators it becomes possible to observe and quantify these seemingly intangible NOTECHs. For example, if a pilot shows awareness of the wind, terrain, location, airspace and threats then you can have a measure of their Situational Awareness.

The concept of Crew Resource Management (CRM) was a development in incorporating the human factor, a way of describing non-technical skills. This later developed into a defined list of NOTECHs - Situational Awareness, Decision Making, Workload Management and Crew Co-operation, each with a list of component behaviours.