A very bad CRM book

I was so looking forward to The Pilot Factor: A fresh look into Crew Resource Management (2014) by Jean Denis Marcellin. Had heard about it online. Cool cover picture has airline pilot ripping off uniform shirt to show Superman costume underneath. Some glowing reviews on Amazon.

The Pilot Factor: A fresh look into Crew Resource Management

Then I got the book and started reading. Oh dear. It’s a self-published stretched padded 100 pages with no original research, a limited understanding of CRM history, editing issues, no common thread, and no new personal insights. At the end all I really noticed was that there wasn’t a single mention of that pilot-turned-Superman from the cover in the book (although there is some chatter of other super heroes).

The first page states “let’s go all the way back to the 1970s, and the birth of Human Factors.” Oh dear. Not a good start. It’s generally agreed that aviation human factors came out of WWII. Paul Fitts and Richard Jones published their work on pilot error and flap/gear design in 1947. Grether’s seminal studies on altimeter designs were published in 1949. I have a 1953 book by McFarland titled Human factors in Air Transportation. It’s 830 pages long. With lots of info packed onto every page. And while The Pilot Factor mostly deals with Crew Resource Management (CRM), a subset of human factors that did indeed become recognizable in the early 1970’s, its birthfather Dr Alan Diehl and the landmark United Airlines flight 173 crash are never mentioned. How could a promised ‘human factors expert’ not know this?

On the second page it’s stated that,

“Around the 1970s …. Investigators discovered that between 70% and 80% of aviation accidents involved human error.”

No, that’s also wrong. The 70-80% figure was accepted knowledge in human factors circles by the end of WWII. From here the book continues with a collection of weak summaries of various human factors models. An example of the editing problems is on page 6, “Al Haynes was at the commands of the United Airlines Flight 232.” Does he mean at the controls? Or in command? Small error, really no big deal, but typical of the need throughout for an editor not a self-publish button.

More worrying is the unusual claim that Captain ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, who glided his Airbus A320 into the Hudson River saving the life of everybody on board, is an example of autocratic “old school” or “god” cockpit management. On page 51 the author states Sully “provided an iron-handed management of the situation.” How odd. Most vaguely knowledgeable people would say even-handed, not iron-handed. The NTSB transcripts show Sully calmly asking his First Officer in the few seconds they had, “Got any ideas?” (to which the reply was “actually not”). For a book on CRM to claim Sully as an example of old-school autocratic without presenting any evidence is, to say the least, confusing.

The author uses the term PF and PNF (pilot flying and pilot not flying) but since about 2003 the preference by CRM professionals has been to use the terms PF and PM (for pilot monitoring). This is a result of a major concern of the US NTSB and UK AAIB about the number of accidents where the pilot monitoring should have spoken up to the pilot flying. Human performance during monitoring is real ‘cutting-edge’ HF and CRM. It may have been a contributing cause to accidents like the B777 in San Francisco. This concern is not covered in the book.

Modern safety concepts like resilience and emergent system complexity are also absent. Nothing of the debate over the meaning of situational awareness. The OODA loop is given a couple of pages, without ever mentioning John Boyd, or giving examples of its practical use. The DISC assessment is discussed, but again in a historical and theoretical vacuum. We flit and flirt about but never seem to tie anything together. There is no original research. There is little original research cited. And that would be OK if this were an insightful personal account. But it’s not. It’s a lightweight re-hash of training manuals and books, poorly integrated, poorly edited, that reaches no final point or conclusion. While I wanted to be impressed, I unfortunately came away with distantly different feelings.

While some reviews Jean Denis Marcellin tweet call the author a ‘CRM expert’ I couldn’t find out much about him. He did take a free introductory undergraduate human factors online course last year from ERAU. And he does have a blog and an active twitter account (@TheMadFlyer). Here’s an example tweet:

Life is abt king a**. Not kssng it. No mattr who u r. Let ur inr-self shine thru & reach 4 yr drms

All very inspiring I’m sure, but not quite the insightful CRM professional I was looking to learn from.

Oh well. I was disappointed. I wasted my money. But maybe I’m saving you some pennies with my review.

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