Not so humble: the Pilot Monitoring

The “pilot not flying” (PNF) is not such a humble role, according to developing wisdom. Even when it’s being carried out by the copilot.

Besides which, PNF is now out of favour as a role description, replaced by PM (pilot monitoring). 

In the USA the latter has been common currency for a while, but it is now crossing the Atlantic eastward.

Right now the Royal Aeronautical Society is running a two-day conference on the task of the Pilot Monitoring, on the grounds that so many serious recent accidents (let alone iconic accidents back in the 1970s and earlier could have been prevented if the role was carried out effectively. The Monitoring theme has been adopted for the RAeS’s second conference on Preparing the Aircraft Commander for the 21st Century.

But we were never taught how to monitor effectively, were we? It was just one of those things it was assumed you could do. Or, like that mysterious quality known as good airmanship, it was assumed you either had it or you didn’t.

One thing that’s always been said is that humans are okay at doing things, but hopeless at monitoring them. Is that inevitably true?

There is no industry best practice for the art of being a good PM. But a lot of people – ops people, trainers, academics, psychologists – are gathered at the RAeS trying to work out whether there could be, and what the learn-able components of good monitoring might be.

Just listening to the presentations on the first day (today), being a good PM is a very complex task, and is often busier than that of the PF.

My favourite quote of the day came from Prof Helena Reidemar, a human factors specialist at the University of Central Missouri working in its Aviation Safety Masters Degree programme. She is also a Boeing 767 First Officer at Delta and Director of Human Factors at ALPA.

She said: “Monitoring is a core piloting skill as much as stick and rudderskills are”.

Well, we’d better get better at it then.

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4 Responses to Not so humble: the Pilot Monitoring

  1. John laming 20 March, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    Here we go again. For the life of me I cannot see what is so complicated about a first officer watching the captain fly that the RAeS are spending lots of money in a two day symposium to explain the basic role of the PM. Common sense has disappeared out of the flight desk window and this will only result in a talk-fest on the flight deck as the First officer gabbles away at the captain under the guise of monitoring.

  2. David Learmount 20 March, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    You should have been there, John. You might have learned something. Incidentally, what role does the captain play when the copilot is PF?

  3. Robert Scott 21 March, 2013 at 9:20 am #

    Sad that the only comment should be so negative. I seem to recall the same sort of negativity when CRM became part of our training programmes. A review of most of the accidents that have occurred within the recent – and not so recent – past will show that if monitoring had been conducted in an acceptable way the accident would not have happened. If that is not justification for the ‘talkfest’ cynically referred to I don’t know what is.

  4. Maurice Knowles 24 March, 2013 at 12:06 am #

    Following David Learmount’s factualy correct comment on the RAeS Conference that the only comment posted was so negative and showed such a lack of understanding no wonder that we have a massive problem in aviation today to resolve.
    The comment posted by David was accurate and to the point. When you read accident reports of the recent years Monitoring or understanding the difficulties cannot be dismissed by such glib comment given by the respondent.
    Maurice Knowles

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