Culture has a multi-faceted role in the aviation enterprise, Capt Kimberly Perkins, PhD Candidate, University of Washington, and Jennifer Pickerel, Vice President, Aviation Personnel International, explained to attendees of the Flight Safety Foundation’s 68th annual Business Aviation Safety Summit (BASS) in New Orleans this week.

Prompted by cutting-edge research being completed, in one instance, by Perkins as part of her doctoral program, the aviation community is expanding its view of culture along qualitative and quantitative lines. 

Let’s first step back and define culture, with the presentation team noting “it is the way people behave, and the attitudes and beliefs that inform that behavior.”     

At the qualitative level, the presentation team provided important instances in which culture is embedded in FAA advisory circulars and other organization documents. In one case, the FAA asserted crew resource management should become an inseparable part of an organization’s culture. Pickerel highlighted instances in which culture should be used more effectively in recruiting and retention programs, for instance, offering prospective hires the opportunity to gain more insights about an organization of interest. 

Perkins is helping to quantify culture in a very tight research program, using N=803 to examine cases between 2019-2023. To date, 59,139 data points have been established to further investigate myriad cultural aspects of flight deck behavior, ranging from “getting along” to “speaking up.” The business aviation pilot pointed out the value of hers and other individuals’ research, noting business aviation, and indeed, the broader civil aviation community, operate in a socio-technical system, in which the socio- and technical parts are interdependent parts of a more complex system. For instance, socio-factors adversely impacted and trumped technical aspects during the Asiana 214 accident in July 2014. 

Aspects of culture transcend the organization. While interpersonal communications and other aspects of culture play out at the individual level on the flight deck and even a maintenance repair site, leaders must be aware of biases, adopt a growth mindset and promote psychological safety and strengthen interpersonal communications.  

Pickerel gained the attention of a number of session delegates when she first told them their businesses were not only about planes – but people. “And if your culture is not healthy, you can’t have a safety management system,” she concluded.