What do I do now?
When I retired from operational flying for the Devon Air Ambulance in September 2015, I did wonder initially what I was going to do next!
However, DAAT had been awarded their own Air Operators Certificate (AOC) in 2014 and one of my roles at that time was Safety Manager. This was a job I loved, having lots of interest in flight safety, and that seemed the ideal role for me to continue in. As I have a lot of experience in that field it also meant I was able to share that experience with colleagues and give something back to the operation.
It’s still strange sitting at the base and watching the helicopter go out on a mission (without me!). But then again after flying for Devon Air Ambulance for some 23 years, undertaking 7,890 missions what else could I expect?
A new role
As well as being the Safety Manager, I also have a new role which is as a CRM trainer (Crew Resource Management). I have to plan and deliver the CRM training using guidelines laid down by the European Aviation Authorities on a 3 year cycle. This is mandatory training for all of our aircrew, and recommended for our senior management and it consists of a (very) full day’s training, once a year. We would normally engage an external company to put on this training for us, but as the decision was made to bring this training ‘in house’, myself and North Devon pilot Dan Smith were sent to do a CRM Trainer training course in the wilds of Cheshire.
The course consisted of five very intensive days, which included lectures, lesson planning, practical teaching exercises and presentations. The last day of the course involved our final assessment which was videoed and effectively made up part of our final exam. Happily we both passed! There were a total of 4 pupils on our course which was a nice small number and we all got on really well. Worth noting is that this training is also mandatory for airline cabin crew.
So! What is CRM?
CRM is a tool that focuses on failures and mistakes and why we make them. It gives us the tools to recognise errors and threats. By being able to recognise these threats and errors it teaches us how to avoid them. Avoidance is the best defence but, if that’s not possible, then it teaches us to trap, mitigate or change the outcome of the threats and errors to continue flying safely. Emergency situations are covered by procedures but when the procedures break down CRM comes in.
Things do go wrong, but when they go wrong having the training on how to deal with these situations means that you can spot it happening and put it right before it turns into an emergency.
Having flown a lot longer than Dan (which sounds soooo much better than being older than him!), when my Commercial flying licence was issued HPF (Human Performance and Failure) was not part of the requirement. But Human Factors is now a huge part of pilot licencing. Dan had already done a HPF module for his licence, but I needed to head back to Cheshire to do a HPF module as it is a requirement for a CRM trainer. HPF looks at why we do the things we do and why we do them. It teaches us how we, as humans, react to differing circumstances in different ways. It is a hugely fascinating and interesting area of flight safety (and life in general actually!).
Why not buy in the service rather than train me?
Being able to run our own courses ‘in house’ is much more cost effective. It also allows us to be more flexible, not relying on when a third party instructor can fits us in. It also opens up another income generation stream as we could offer training to other Air Ambulance organisations.
I was rather nervous running my first CRM course (and subsequent ones too), but I was still looking forward to it. Dan and I ran the first course together, which consisted of Paramedics, Pilots, HEMS dispatchers, Senior Managers and a Doctor, a total of 21 people all from Devon Air Ambulance Trust. In order to get our CRM teaching license, which allows us to facilitate future courses, we have to have our first teaching sessions assessed, so we were joined for the day by an external examiner who conducted our validation. They spent the day watching us teach and then gave us a (long) debrief afterwards! Fortunately we both passed. We won’t need to be re-examined again for another three years. But in our third year we will have to attend a CRM refresher course and be reassessed by an external assessor to check we are still suitable as teachers. Hopefully we will be!
Pictured left to right: Instructor Ex BA Long Haul Captain Roy, Dan Smith (DAAT Pilot), Renne Schellekens - works in Southend on Jets, Gemma – Spanish CRM Psychology Instructor, Di Worby - Global Air Transport Owner and instructor, Dr Phil Adam – TRM Instructor, Rob Mackie