Core EBT Competencies: Leadership & Teamwork

Evidence-Based Training (EBT) is a new training paradigm which can lead to very positive outcomes for Business Aviation operators. As part of his review of core EBT competencies, Mario Pierobon considers leadership and teamwork in the cockpit...

Mario Pierobon  |  23rd November 2023
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    Mario Pierobon
    Mario Pierobon

    Mario Pierobon holds a Master’s Degree in Air Transportation Management from City University London,...

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    pilot giving instructions in the cockpit

    A regional aircraft accident that occurred a couple of decades ago provides a valuable opportunity to reflect on the importance of leadership and teamwork as a core competency in the cockpit.

    In October 2004 Corporate Airlines flight 5966 struck trees on final approach, crashing short of runway 36 at Kirksville Regional Airport (IRK), Missouri. The aircraft – a BAE-J3201 – was destroyed by the impact of the crash and resulting fire.

    According to the National Transportation Safety

    Board’s aircraft accident report, the pilots’ failure to follow established procedures and properly conduct a non-precision instrument approach at night in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC), their descent below the Minimum Descent Altitude (MDA) before required visual cues were available [this continued unmoderated until the airplane struck the trees], and their failure to adhere to the established division of duties between the flying and non-flying pilot were all contributors to the crash.

    Further contributing to the accident was the pilots' failure to make standard callouts. The pilots’ unprofessional behaviour during the flight and fatigue likely contributed to their degraded performance, according to the accident report.

    “Cockpit communication recorded by the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) indicated that the pilots frequently engaged in conversation that lacked a professional tone during the accident flight”, the report says.

    “When the relationship between colleagues is excessively relaxed, there may be a tendency for professionalism to be compromised and pilot responsibilities to be adversely affected. Flight crew members must be alert to these possibilities to avoid degraded situation awareness and adhere to standard operating procedures and professionalism.

    “Also, in an excessively relaxed relationship there may be a tendency for overconfidence and over-reliance on each other. The pilots’ professional demeanor was probably degraded as a result of their relationship and relaxed behaviour; these factors may also have detracted from the pilots’ adherence to company standard procedures and callouts”.

    What Constitutes Leadership & Teamwork?

    A professional cockpit environment is supported by effective leadership and teamwork. In describing leadership and teamwork, ICAO Doc 9995 (Manual of Evidence-Based Training) highlights that a competent pilot:

    • Understands and agrees with the crew’s roles and objectives.
    • Creates an atmosphere of open communication and encourages team participation.
    • Uses initiative and gives directions when required.
    • Admits mistakes and takes responsibility.
    • Anticipates and responds appropriately to other crew members’ needs.
    • Carries out instructions when directed.
    • Communicates relevant concerns and intentions.
    • Gives and receives feedback constructively.
    • Confidently intervenes when important for safety.
    • Demonstrates empathy and shows respect and tolerance for others.
    • Engages others in planning and allocates activities fairly and appropriately according to abilities.
    • Addresses and resolves conflicts and disagreements in a constructive manner.
    • Projects self-control in all situations.

    Best Practices for Cockpit Leadership and Communication

    According to the European Cockpit Association (ECA) in a 2013 document entitled ‘Future Airline Pilot Profession’, from the onset of training the aim should be to provide the student with more soft skills.

    “These encompass the areas of understanding and developing his/her personal psychological and physiological resources and limitations. They also allow better understanding of team dynamics, and learning leadership and decision-making principles”, says ECA.

    “Doing so will enhance and reinforce both personal resilience as well as crew/team effectiveness and resilience. There will need to be a continuous effort and opportunity to perfect these skills and an adequate feedback loop to ensure progress throughout the training.”

    According to the FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 121-42, leadership can be defined as a relational process that emphasizes the ability to exercise skill to achieve a goal, is both proactive and reactive, and necessarily considers other members of the group.

    In flight operations, for example, leadership is a proactive process from the Pilot in Command (PIC) that considers other crewmembers and uses all available resources to achieve a safe flight in a professional manner in accordance with Standard Operating Procedures.

    The purpose of leadership is to develop PICs as capable leaders with knowledge of their position and responsibilities within an air operator, the regulatory environment, and the air operator’s culture.

    PICs should be provided with the skills needed to manage other crews, communications, and workload in a manner that promotes professionalism and adherence to SOPs, according to AC 121-42.

    “The PIC should understand how leadership characteristics can influence and improve situational awareness, proactive decision making, and communication with others, including receptivity to feedback and active listening,” AC 121-42 highlights.

    PICs should consider how they can adapt their personal leadership and supervision styles to varying situations, including the experience and attributes of other crew members. AC 121-42 adds: “Instructors should facilitate a discussion of positive and negative leadership experiences that the students have experienced during line operations.

    “For discussion of negative leadership experiences, the instructor should facilitate discussion of how the leader could have acted differently for a more positive leadership experience.”

    Ultimately, leadership and teamwork constitute a core competency that should be thoroughly considered, emphasized, and developed under a Business Aviation operator’s EBT program.

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