Silas is a safety inspector involved in aviation for the FAA and obtained his Master of Science in Aeronautics degree through ERAU
Culture and Social Hierarchy Within Aviation
Cultures vary within countries and exert extraordinary influence on pilot behavior, and often undermine the company's expectations. Werfelman (2015) mentions that national norms and customs play a defining role in aviation safety culture. Overcoming events that do not meet a level of expectation require training. Training remains the aviation industry's backbone, and cultural review is necessary to ensure an uneventful flight while aligning cross-cultural differences. Learning a variety of methods to communicate differences improves safety performance. In today's aviation industry, structured training sessions surrounding cultural discussions become necessary to operate an aircraft. Cultural understanding and social differences play an essential role in the aviation system.
The article provides information about power distance, communication, and Crew Resource Management (CRM) to overcome barriers and meet company expectations.
Power distances exist among the scheduling of a flight crew, and the differences relate to plane crashes. According to Mahbub (2017), many cultures involve a power distance determined by the leader and subordinate variable. The leadership and subordinate, or the captain and first officer, plays a significant role in the aircraft's operation. For example, Asian culture has a high power distance between the leader and subordinate. Each person plays a defined role within the hierarchy. Usually, the authority elevates well above the subordinate level in the leader and follower role—an authoritarian decision-making style of leadership. The power distance presents a barrier within the aviation profession. Next, in the United States, a low power distance exists between the leader and follower. Equal opportunity to make decisions and a strong expectation of equality and power in decision-making support sharing ideas and experience (Mahbub, 2017). A critical area to differentiate between the relationship of the crew to work as a team.
The power distance is one area of interest that aligns with the accident rate. A low power distance is associated with a reduced accident rate, and a higher distance equates to a greater likelihood of an incident. An increase accident rate is likely because of the distance among cultural power. High power distance signifies less creativity to communicate, causing a reduced effort to share ideas (Mahbub, 2017). Therefore, an increased distance has shown poor communication, increasing the chance for a mishap (Hutchins, Holder, & Perez, 2002).
For example, Germany is a low power index country ranking lower than an Asian country with a higher power distance. People in high power distance cultures believe that power and their role have a rightful place, identifying various vertical arrangements. Leaders in high power distance countries expect to resolve problems and make difficult decisions. Subordinates comply without question.
In the flight deck of an aircraft, the crew must work together according to the operating manual that requires a team effort to run checklists and ensure mistakes are identified and mitigated. The chart listed below provides the power distance of Brazil, China, Germany, and the United States. Higher power distances include Brazil at a power index of 69, and China shows 80. Lower power distance exists within Germany at 35, and the United States shows 40.
Power Distance Chart
Noting the power distance country ranking of various countries identifies whether the cultures exhibit a high or low power distance. Noting cultural differences exists suggests that it is crucial to evaluate standard Crew Resource Management (CRM) techniques from a cultural standpoint. This is especially important for a culture that affects passenger's lives. Thus, CRM training must align the cultural differences to allow communication and enable the team to work collaboratively in a team environment.
Communication in the flight deck involves complex tasks while integrating gestures and speech. CRM helps transition pilots to operate a plane for another country. This type of training is vital as cultural problems arise and the potential to speak up increases the communication effort (Metscher, Smith, & Alghandi, 2009). Thus, having a CRM program promotes open communication and teamwork regardless of cultural indifferences.
The goal of CRM is to offer a necessary skill to operate the aircraft using available resources to ensure a safe flight. Training must improve crew performance, decision-making skills, communication, leadership, and teamwork (Jensen, 1995). The CRM process is not an idea developed to change people's personality or culture but change the attitude toward carrying out a specific function and communicating effectively with others in the flight deck.
CRM may remove the barriers produced by an authoritarian captain and the first officer who tends to shut down and become paralyzed as a mere bystander. Training of this sort may have reduced cultural challenge following the crash of the Korean Air cargo flight 8509 (Department for Transport [DOT], 2003). The captain, a domineering former military pilot, made a catastrophic error, and the first officer noticed the error but did nothing for fear of reprisal. The aircraft hit the ground less than 60 seconds after takeoff, killing everyone on board (DOT, 2003).
The highest level of safety exists when the crew contributes their best efforts toward a common goal. Human error plays a role in aviation accidents, and cultural differences remain a vital component of safety. The oversight of aviation requires a comprehensive induction procedure to acquaint the crew about cultural differences to align the social environment. Having a CRM program is essential for the two-person flight deck as cultural differences exist throughout the world.
Removing the cultural variable is a win for the crew, company, and most importantly, the passengers. Cultural diversity awareness training highlights the work required to cut barriers and reduce risk during flight. Contending with considerable social distance and cultural differences requires training to prevent bias and encourage effective communication. Thus, the profession's goal is to operate the plane while enabling CRM concepts to overcome communication issues related to cultural and hierarchical power differences.
- Department for Transport (2003). Report on the Accident to Boeing 747-2B5F, HL-7451 near London Stansted Airport on 22 December 1999. London: Stationery Office. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5422f0a5ed915d13710002fb/3-2003_HL-7451.pdf
- Hutchins, E., Holder, B., & Perez, R. (2002). Culture and Flight Deck Operations. http://hci.ucsd.edu/media/uploads/hci_papers/EH2002-2.pdf
- Jensen, R.S. (1995). Pilot Judgement and Crew Resource Management. Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
- Mahbub, A. (2017). The impact of national culture on the organizational culture: Mulinational companies doing business in developing countries (Master’s thesis). https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1127462/FULLTEXT01.pdf
- Metscher, D. S., Smith, M., & Alghamdi, A. (2009). Multi-Cultural Factors in the Crew Resource Management Environment: Promoting Aviation Safety for Airline Operations. Journal of Aviation/Aerospace Education & Research, 18(2). https://doi.org/ 10.15394/jaaer.2009.1423
- Werfelman, L. (2015). Crossing cultures. Flight Safety Foundation. Https://flightsafety.org/asw-article/crossing-cultures/