Cleared to disconnect? : a study of the interaction between airline pilots and line maintenance engineers : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Aviation at Massey University, Manawatũ, New Zealand
Accurate information regarding the maintenance status of an aircraft is essential for safe and efficient airline operations, yet there is evidence to suggest that pilots and line maintenance engineers do not always communicate effectively with each other. To date the majority of this evidence has been anecdotal, and formal studies have focused primarily on the shortcomings of the aircraft logbook as a communication medium. Despite the notion that poor communication between these two groups can potentially have undesirable consequences, there has been little discussion about how this might manifest within an airline environment. The studies undertaken for this research examined three distinct aspects of the pilot-maintenance interface: 1) the intergroup relationship between airline pilots and line maintenance engineers, 2) operational radio communications between airline pilots and line maintenance engineers, and 3) the effects of deficient pilot-maintenance communication on aircraft operations and flight safety.
Thematically analysed discourse from a series of focus groups held at a large New Zealand airline, found that communication difficulties are primarily the result of an interrelating set of organisational, physical and psychosocial barriers, all of which influence the nature of the intergroup relationship between pilots and line maintenance engineers. The use of Interaction Process Analysis (IPA) to examine radio calls between pilots and maintenance personnel identified that while the two groups share similar communication patterns and styles, indications of these barriers were present within their communication exchanges. The effects of deficient communication were then examined using data from the United States Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS). Using Correspondence Analysis (CA) to map associations between deficient pilot-maintenance communication and adverse outcomes, evidence was found that poor communication can be associated with both schedule disruptions and potential safety ramifications.
Ultimately, this research has important implications for airlines, particularly given the degree to which organisational factors can influence the efficacy of communication between these two groups. In light of the findings which suggest that problematic interactions between pilots and maintenance personnel can have both commercial implications and pose a threat to flight safety, it is recommended that airlines give consideration to facilitating joint Crew Resource Management (CRM) training for these two groups.