Human Resilience and Decision making training the way ahead !.

Introducing the “Cognitive and Behavioural Approach” into airline pilot training programmes!



Air disasters are rightly a subject of great concern despite the fact that aviation accidents are at an all-time low, making air travel the safest mode of transport. Comparing figures for accident rates for western-built jets, in 1970, accidents fell from a hull loss rate of 8.4 per million flights to 0.37 in 2014 (source: Boeing 2015).


These numbers are the result of the highest standards of excellence being the norm in the aviation industry as it actively strives to reduce accident rates. However, if we consider the nature of the accidents that have occurred in the last few years similarities amongst them can be seen, namely, loss of control of the aircraft when the crew was faced with an unexpected and complex situation.

(Colgan Air, Flight 3407, New York, 2009 - Turkish Airlines, Flight 1951 Amsterdam, 2009 - Air France, Flight 447 Atlantic Ocean, 2010 - Afriqiya Airways, Tripoli 2010 - Lion Air, Bali, 2013 - Asiana, San Francisco 2013 - Indonesia Airasia, 2015 



And that is where the problem lies: 

“unforeseen events are the daily lot of pilots and not the exception”

(“Dealing with Unforeseen Situations in Flight, Improving Aviation Safety”, Air and Space Academy, 2013


This reality shows that it may be the case that the level of automation has reached such a point that it in fact has a negative impact on air safety. It is now well known that the ever-increasing levels of automation are inducing “automation crew dependency” and weakening resilience when dealing with the unexpected.


It is therefore necessary to reinforce the pilot’s cognitive abilities in order to enhance the decision-making process when under high levels of stress and in critical situations. The Aviation industry and Authorities have recognized this phenomenon and seen the need to review airline pilot training.

In light of this, “Recurrent Pilot Training Programmes” are being reviewed using new methods such as EBT, ATQP, etc., the idea being to shift from a “One Size Fits All” standard training programme to a tailored training programme in line with the corresponding needs of the operators.


“ ..I think it is clear for all of us that to be prepared for the unexpected is the biggest challenge, or let me call it ‘threat’ to stay in nomenclature, it’s the biggest threat in aviation, to human beings working in aviation”.

(Pieter Harms, IATA Senior Advisor. Air and Space Academy, November 2011


But some fundamental questions still remain: are we really adequately addressing the problem? Are we using the right tools to improve this situation? Are we seriously considering this as a potential systemic threat in accordance with the TEM model? (Robert L. Helmreich1, James R. Klinect, & John A. Wilhelm, “Models of threat, error, and CRM in Flight Operations”, University of Texas Team Research Project, The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Psychology
Austin, Texas USA)


We believe that the EBT (evidence based training) approach, used in isolation, is falling short in dealing with the root cause of the problem: namely the lack of a crew’s resilience when facing unexpected and sometimes surprisingly simple, situations.


From this point of view, “Resilience” must be understood as a pilot performance indicator rather than a pilot performance factor (This statement is further developed in the full paper. see “ Pilot Performance Based and Assessement”). For many years now, “non-technical skills” have been assessed during operator proficiency and Line Checks.  In this field, “NOTECHS” (Non-Technical skills) markers are used to identify weaknesses and/or potential problems. However, we are still lacking a specific diagnostic protocol to assess training needs.


Recent developments in the area of neurocognitive science, and in particular results from a “Neurocognitive and Behavioral Approach” (Neurocognitivism Institute (  are offering some interesting perspectives. How can NBA  principles be introduced into the current training programme aimed at training/reinforcing crew management in complex and unexpected situations? What are the foreseeable obstacles and limits?


One of the advantages in introducing NBA (Neurocognitive and Behavioral Approach) into pilot training lies in its complementarity to the EBT philosophy (evidence based training). The idea is to develop easy and reliable tools in order to better understand observable behaviour and cognitive processes during pilot training and/or evaluation. In fact the goal is to use NBA as an integral part of pilot training in order to improve the pilot’s decision-making process, especially when facing complex situations.

A neurocognitive approach is twofold in its benefits as firstly it provides tools to identify underlying weaknesses in non-technical skills, such as stress management, poor flight management, lack of resilience. Consequently, it would then allow a tailored remedial programme to be developed for each pilot to be trained to deal with such situations and accordingly a higher level of airline safety to be attained.



Introduction of a “Cognitive and Behavioural Approach”  is a credible solution for pilot training and evaluation programmes as it fulfills EASA demands for the incorporation of “resilience and unexpected situation management training”. The objective of this study is to develop a differentiated diagnosis protocol based on the basic principles of the Cognitive and Behavioral Approach which pertain to “Containers” rather than to “contents” (evidence based). The resulting diagnosis would provide a better insight  and understanding of “Non-Technical Skill” issues and consequently improve the efficiency of remedial training. Furthermore, NBA tools are easily understandable for non-psychological expert people and simple to implement so it makes sense not only economically but also operationally. Last but not least, NBA deployment in pilot training (Basic or Recurrent programmes) would not require any great effort and therefore the impact on cost would be minimal.