Mike Vickers is a Senior First Officer on our Boeing 747 fleet, has flown for us for six years. Mike’s career has seen him work as an air traffic controller and airport fireman before landing his dream job as a pilot. He first became interested in Human Factors at his previous airline and is one of several Human Factor pilot specialists who work with Stella and Ian to deliver the course.
Stella. The culture that HF training promotes is one where you can be highly talented, skilled and experienced but still have the capacity to learn from errors, because you believe that in aviation, we treat these events as precious learning opportunities.
This is driven by our no blame culture, where we share ideas when things go wrong to prevent them from happening to someone else. HF training also teaches us that leadership and teamwork is an inclusive effort, where everybody’s talents and skills are recognised and valued. There is no fear in speaking up regardless of your rank if you feel something is unsafe or doesn’t feel right. We use stories from our crew and pilots to enhance the learning and the latest research from the world of neuroscience and social psychology.
“Great leadership isn’t about what you make people do, it’s about how you make people feel”.
Mike. It is so important as, compared to the technology we use, humans have developed so little. By understanding our limitations we can hopefully improve safety and improve the culture of the industry to be as safety minded as possible.
Each year the course covers different topics. For 2018, three things are discussed in the two-hour session:
Open and honest reporting. It all comes down to our industry wanting to learn rather than punish people. All our incident reviews are anonymised so that nobody gets blamed. That means people aren’t afraid of admitting their mistakes in the knowledge they will be used positively. This is safety culture at its best.
Leadership and trust. The crew on your flight might never have met each other before they report for duty. It’s vital they can trust each other to do the right thing should anything untoward happen. A big part of this is confidence in our training and procedures, but it’s also about those first few minutes together. As Stella puts it, “Great leadership isn’t about what you make people do, it’s about how you make people feel”.
The Generation Game. For the first time, we’ve got teams working on our aircraft who come from four different generations. That means there are people working together who access and absorb information in very different ways. What might seem like impatience to a baby boomer might be perfectly normal to a millennial. It’s only by recognising these differences that the different age groups can learn to understand each other and work together.
Mike and Stella with the ambulance crews
Our Human Factors courses generate a lot of interest from outside the airline. On this particular day, Stella and Mike were joined by four people from the Ambulance Service – Daniel Dray, Paula Newman, Michael Stoker and Torge Von Zengen. Daniel has worked in front-line emergency care for ten years and is currently studying for a degree in paramedic science at St George’s University.
It was fascinating to see the teams of ambulance crew and flight crew discover they have a lot in common. Both are safety critical roles that rely on teamwork. Both need to make quick decisions, often working in cramped conditions. Fatigue and stress can play a big part in both jobs and need to be managed effectively. And there’s an incredible dedication to the wellbeing of their colleagues, as well as their customers or patients. “Coming along to see how Virgin Atlantic does this has been hugely beneficial,” said Daniel. “It is impressive to see an organisation take human factors onboard and involve everyone.”
You always hear airlines say “safety and security is our number one priority” but it’s sometimes easy to forget how much effort goes into that.
As an industry, what we do, and how safely we do it is far from easily won. Safety borrows from decades of experience, countless learnings from the history books of aviation and the dedication and skill of every single person who works at an airline. It comes from world-class training and a relentless focus, keeping safety front of mind, of being alert and vigilant. As customers, you have your part to play too. Our safety demos are there for a reason, as are the rules and regulations around packing your bags. You might not need Human Factors training but when it comes to safety, when you step onboard one of our aircraft, you become one of our team too.