Some Thoughts On The Air India CRM Scandal

Yesterday, Indian aviation reporter Tarun Shukla wrote up a piece on some safety issues at Air India that caught my attention. Like everything else he writes, this was a very well written piece. Be sure to check it out.

The article talks about something very serious – Air India skipped important pilot training. For almost 2 years, Air India skipped CRM training – Crew Resource Management training. This training is required to be done annually by the DGCA, India’s aviation regulator. CRM training is done to improve communication in the cockpit. Communication is very important to effectively divide up the tasks that pilots face, especially in difficult situations. It has been shown by many studies that effective CRM training reduces pilot stress and pilot error, improving air safety in a tangible and important way.

CRM was introduced to the world of Air Safety after high profile crashes such as KLM 4805 (Tenerife disaster) and Korean Air 801. These crashes shocked the world of air safety – senior, respected, very good pilots made stupid (and fatal) mistakes, and nobody else said a word. Since then, the science of CRM has been improving continuously. Less air crashes take place today due to pilot error. However, it isn’t perfect – modern crashes have cited poor CRM as a major factor. Crashes such as Colgan 3407, Garuda Indonesia 200, Air India Express 812

So not only was this training skipped, it also appears that the lack of this training may have been a significant contributor in the cause of the deadliest Indian air crash in a long, long time. That is a serious issue. And it brings up a lot of disturbing questions. Why wasn’t the training being done? Why didn’t anybody at Air India notice? Why didn’t anybody at the DGCA notice? Safety audits are done pretty frequently – somebody should have noticed.

Since the Mangalore crash, Air India has done all their CRM training very diligently. But that will never make up for the 158 people who lost their lives as a result of pilot error that one fateful day. Everybody who was responsible for, or who turned a blind eye to the fact that AI was skipping important training has blood on their hands now. And knowing Air India, they probably were promoted.