Resource management

Effective management of crew resources is vital to p

image: Dr Simon Bennett, pictured here at the NPAS base at Husband’s Bosworth (Leicestershire, UK), has accompanied police crews for more than two years to assess operational safety and efficiency.
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Credit: Simon Bennett/University of Leicester

Real-world research has shown, for the first time, that effective crew resource management theory makes an “invaluable contribution” to the safety and effectiveness of police air support in England and in Wales.

Dr Simon Bennett, director of the University of Leicester’s Civil Safety and Security Unit, has accompanied National Police Air Service (NPAS) aircrew for over two years to assess operational safety and efficiency.

NPAS operates 19 helicopters and four fixed-wing aircraft in support of 46 individual police forces across the UK.

Through interviews with pilots, Tactical Flight Officers (TFOs) and support personnel, as well as first-hand experience of the challenges aircrew face during operations, Dr. Bennett has produced an in-depth analysis of operations NPAS and their successful use of Crew Resource Management (CRM).

CRM is a series of training procedures proposed in the late 1970s, primarily to improve aviation safety. The techniques can also be applied to other environments where the possibility of human error is likely to have devastating effects.

One such episode analyzed as part of the research involved a harrowing incident in north London where a man beheaded a pensioner and threatened the helicopter crew before walking towards a group of children. The crew used CRM techniques both during the incident and once the man was taken into custody to maintain the safety of the aircraft, the mission and those on the ground.

The CRM framework has been applied to NPAS training and operations for many years, but Dr. Bennett’s project was the first time that the organization’s application of CRM techniques had been studied sociologically, particularly by in vivo Ethnographic research.

He said: “I interviewed one of the TFOs who witnessed the beheading of Edmonton. His testimony confirmed that CRM improves safety margins and helps flight crews land their aircraft safely, even in difficult circumstances.

“If the three Edmonton crew members had not been able to rely on the skills acquired during CRM training, it is possible that, with distracted and emotional crew members, the aircraft could have been lost and people on the ground killed or injured. This episode proves that CRM works.

“Rarely has CRM theory faced a tougher test. These results validate every claim made about CRM.”

Other findings and recommendations made by the report include:

  • that the SNPA achieves a lot with an insufficient budget
  • that pilots and TFOs are able, through creative thinking, to develop effective workarounds. For example, when downlink fails, relay messages to ground units via NPAS HQ in Wakefield
  • that the NPAS could do more with larger and more capable helicopters equipped with better and more reliable sensors and communications
  • that operating a helicopter with a single TFO plus pilot creates more latent errors (pending accidents) than with two TFOs
  • that expanding the customer base for CRM training and ensuring that force officers understand the NPAS Tactical Air Support offering would improve operational safety and efficiency
  • that co-training pilots and TFOs in CRM improves teamwork and resilience and, therefore, operational safety and efficiency.

Dr. Bennett published a summary of his SNPA study with the Royal Aeronautical Society. He is also an associate member of the RAeS Flight Operations Group.

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