1.jpg Plane_crash_into_Hudson_River_%28crop%29.jpg
United Airlines Flight 173, Embedded fromAirdisaster.com on 09 October 2010 US Airway Flight 1549, Embedded fromWikipedia on 09 October 2010

It can be argued that technical skill alone is not sufficient in determining the outcome of an accident or incident. To a large degree, the ability of the captain to gain control of his/her emotions in order to think clearly and at the same time being aware of fellow crew members emotional and mental state, is one of the defining attributes in determining the outcome of an incident or accident.

Cockpit resource management was implemented by airlines as they realised that, based on investigations done by the U.S National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in many accidents, the common denominator was due to ineffective crew interaction and failure of leadership. This then evolved into Crew Resource management, to include all crew members, in a bid to help them work more effectively as a team.

Until today, CRM has focused on the technical and thinking abilities – problem solving, technical, analytical and conceptual skills. There is, however, evidence from studies done that indicate how emotions influence a person’s cognitive skills. Towards this end, the next generation of CRM should include the people side, where self confidence, cooperation, empathy and flexibility of actions and thoughts are touched on. The awareness that the combination of the crews thought process, technical skills and emotional awareness is a major factor in ensuring safety.

Internal emotional awareness would consist of being aware of one’s own emotions and emotional triggers. External emotional awareness would constitute the ability to gain insights into fellow colleagues and teams emotional mood and state, unspoken communication and taking the appropriate steps in addressing it.

People with high emotional intelligence are able to be conscious of their emotional state and thoughts, emotional state of the people around them and how their emotional state influences and affects the people around them. They are able to recognize and control their negative emotional outburst, take a step back and analyse the situation clearly and objectively. With this objectivity, they are then able to take the most appropriate action to produce the best results.

The “fight or flight” respond has been clearly documented in various articles. Fear and stress does affect the thinking process, narrowing the selection of available solutions and disregarding alternative approaches. This has the effect of narrow the perspective, unable to “see the big picture”, alternatives or question the basis of the assumptions made with the available information. An example of this would be the accident involving a United Airlines Flight 173, a DC-8, which crashed on approach into Portland. The captain on the flight was completely preoccupied with the arrangement of a safe landing that he failed to consider other anomalies. His focus was entirely on the checklist that he failed to modify his plans when advised by fellow crewmembers of the decreasing fuel status. As a result, the aircraft crashed due to fuel starvation. In contrast, the captain of the “Hudson Miracle” was able to keep his emotions in check and focused on flying the aircraft. He immediately took over control and repeated commands from the first officer to ensure there was no room for miscommunication.

Emotions can be contagious, where the strongest emotion is normally felt unconsciously and mimicked by the people around you. A calm demeanour would be felt by fellow crewmembers and often mimicked.


The following are the actions that demonstrate emotional intelligence:

  • crewmembers who state their concerns in a calm, collected, firm manner with evidence
  • when crewmembers acknowledge a negative atmosphere and in a non defensive manner question fellow crewmembers to determine the cause
  • crewmembers that maintain their composure and communicate calmly and frequently with fellow crewmembers in a stressful situation


Methods that can be used to increase emotional intelligence:

  • awareness of your thoughts. Don’t dwell on negative thoughts. Focus on the future on not on the past.
  • be aware of, acknowledge and identify your emotions. Identifying your emotion makes them less abstract and reduces and releases their influence allowing you to detach yourself from them.
  • reflect on your previous actions and reactions. Explore alternatives.
  • putting yourself in the other person “shoes”. See from his perspective the impact your emotion has on him/her.


FRISINGER Shari (August 2010). Emotionally Enabled. Aerosafety world. Retrievd on 19 September 2010 from http://flightsafety.org/asw/aug10/asw_aug10.pdf

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