David Learmount/LONDON

Research carried out by Lufthansa has revealed that five times as many flight crew mistakes leading to safety threatening events are caused by the pilots' failure to communicate and get on well with each other, compared with incidents caused by technical challenges. The figures reveal the limitations of widely used crew resource management (CRM) training, according to aviation psychologist Dr Reiner Kemmler who is leading the ongoing study.

Embedded pilot personality traits play a part, says Kemmler, remarking: "Two days of CRM is not going to change a person's character." He adds: "Social relationship factors [on the flight deck] play a greater role than human error, operational or technical problems in the occurrence, risk and mastery of safety-relevant incidents." The "social" factors "stem from poor communications quality, inadequate information management, a deficient relationship climate and diminished capability", he says.

Kemmler, speaking at last week's Flight International Crew Management Conference in London, admitted that identifying people who have all the characteristics and skills needed, and also natural communicators and team members, may reduce the pool of potential pilots to an impractically small number.

The research, all involving Lufthansa group flight crew, was based on a confidential survey, which included detailed questions designed to isolate the causal factors of actual safety-related events. Of the 8,000 pilots in the group, some 4,400 voluntarily took part.

Causal factors were categorised as technical, human error, operational, or social interaction - or any combination. Technical events scored highest for a single factor, being the sole cause of 7.7% of the incidents. But by far the highest factor was the operational, human error and social interaction combination, which was present in 37.8% of all incidents, followed by the human/social combination at 13.7%.

Source: Flight International