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What can we learn from Aircrew and apply to our Business?

When we look at things like natural disasters, crisis and pandemics, are they all the same? Can they be managed the same way? Let’s take a look at how aviators manage risk on the fly, and learn how they stay ahead of the curve.

With so much information surrounding the current Corona Virus, or COVID-19, lets delve into the definitions of what we are dealing with here. Firstly, the definition of a pandemic is defined by the World Health Organisation as ‘the world-wide spread of a new disease’ (WHO, 2010). Interestingly, the definition of COVID-19, suggests that it is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus, alluding to the fact that it is not necessarily a new disease, but a part of a family of these types of diseases (WHO, 2020). Although, the advice goes on to say that most people will develop mild to moderate symptoms, without the need to gain special treatment, there are people who fit within a bracket who may be at a higher risk, such as those with ‘cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer…’ (WHO, 2020). Without going into a debate on the information surrounding the current pandemic, the question remains on how you will react to this information, and reflect on perhaps what you can do, not what you can’t do. Whether you’re a business owner, employee, or retiree, the current pandemic raises multiple questions regarding contingencies, and how it should be best managed moving forward, both individually, as leaders, or just members of the community.

So, what can we take from aviation here? It seems like perhaps an irrelevant question to ask. Though, what is it that a pilot has in their toolbox, that perhaps most other business owners don’t have? It consists of three words, which are commonly known as Crew Resource Management, or Non-Technical Skills. You see, a pilot requires a set of non-technical skills, in addition to their technical skills. They have to work with a team of people, from ground-crew, to air traffic control, to the crew in the air. A pilot requires situational awareness of all things going on around them, in order to make the most educated decision possible in the scenario they are presented with. History tells us, that pilots have not always gotten these decisions right, hence the need for consistent and reinforced training in crew resource management skills. In fact, the research into training pilots and aircrew has been so extensive, that a framework for these types of skills has been defined as cooperating, leadership and management, situational awareness, and decision making as being critical to the toolbox for which a pilot requires (Flin, Martin, Goeters, Hormann, Amalberti, Valot, and NijHuis, 2003). It is these critical factors which effectively bridge the gap between the technical aspects of flying an aircraft, and managing information from multiple sources, to fly effectively and stay ahead of the curve. So, how do we apply these principles to business?

With respect to a mass-crisis event, which could pose immediate impact in minutes, or a threat posing significant risk in future, how are we to know what to do? It is this simple – plan. Aircrew plan everything ahead of time. In addition to that, they build contingencies into these plans. They are aware of the risks because they research the risks, such as extreme weather, timing, hostage situations and mechanical failures. Not only do they plan ahead, but they stay ahead of the curve during flight, when the aircraft is fully operational, maintaining situational awareness of what is happening as situations and the environment changes. What if you put yourself in the captains seat for a minute, instead of thinking of yourself as a business owner, a leader in a company, or just an employee etc? Think about how you would tackle situations differently if you were to act as if you were a pilot of an aircraft, instead of going about your days, weeks, years as if you were on auto-pilot. You would learn to plan ahead of time, you would understand what risks would likely come up in future, you would be more adaptive to changing situations – why? Because the risk is very real. If you don’t adapt and overcome, you crash and burn. That’s the imminent risk to you, but then there is the crew (your resources) and the passengers (those who are also affected). Say you’re a business owner, the captain of the aircraft. You want to know what the skills are of all of your crew, and I’m not just talking about a job description – you want to know them all innately to glean as much creativity of them in these types of situations – why? Because its creativity and innovation which will transform your decision making.

You might be in a situation where your business will not survive. I make no sympathies for you, why? Because you’re responsible. It’s your aircraft (business), you had the chances to plan ahead – this is not the first pandemic or crisis to come along, and it certainly won’t be the last. If you were a good pilot of your craft, you would have adapted with the news which come the months before hand. Before COVID-19 became a thing, you ought to have adapted beforehand, instead of being reactive. If it were a crisis situation requiring minutes, not days, weeks or months to make a decision, you would crash and burn anyway. Think about the people who had no time to react to the tsunami’s in Thailand of 2004. What are you doing at that point in time? Do you panic, or do you harness the four skills of crew resource management? These being:

1. Co-operation
2. Leadership and Managerial Skills
3. Situational Awareness, and
4. Decision Making.

These four fundamental facets of non-technical skills, keeping in mind there are various other models and extended versions way beyond these four facets – by keeping it that simple, you have the opportunity, and you have the opportunities, beyond what you think you have in this very moment, to maximise the resources you have available to make a difference – perhaps avoid crashing and burning. If you require some suggestions or examples, below are some:

Gym Owners – hire out your equipment, provide online resources, host online training, develop an application to support.

Café – delivery orders, include groceries, sell hand-sanitiser.

Distillery – manufacture hand sanitizer, distribute widely.

With all of this information in mind, these times are ‘unprecedented’ and perhaps you may not have been able to avoid the situation you are presented with as a leader, business or employee. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do, and be relentless. In future you NEED to plan ahead. You MUST expand your mindset, and focus on how you CAN get through this. Focus on those four skillsets of crew resource management to be a pilot of your craft. Be vigilant in your information seeking, make decisions quickly with the information you have available, maximise your resources you have, don’t hesitate and never look back.


Flin, R., Martin, L., Goeters, K.M., Hormann, H.J. Amalberti, R., Valot, C., & Nihuis, H. (2003). Development of the NOTECHS (non-technical skills) system for assessing pilots’ CRM skills. Human Factors and Aerospace Safety. 3(2), 95-117. Ashgate.

World Health Organization [WHO]. (2010). Emergencies preparedness, response. What is a pandemic? Retrieved from:

World Health Organization [WHO]. (2020). Health Topics: Coronavirus. Retrieved from:

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