Single Pilot Resource Management – SRM

Single Pilot Resource Management in Relation to Hypoxia

By: Dr. Paul Buza D.O., F.A.C.N.

The solo pilot who flies technically advanced aircraft faces a unique challenge in the event of a cabin depressurization. Not having other members on board, the pilot must establish situational awareness by him or herself and respond early to the emergency to avoid incapacitation. In a rapid or explosive decompression situation awareness is easily established and the pilot would immediately don their mask and carry out the necessary emergency procedures.

However, while the solo pilot is task oriented during a slow cabin depressurization the pilot may not establish situational awareness and succumb to the incapacitating effects of hypoxia. Indeed this has been the cause of many fatal accidents and hence requires specific training to be aware of the insidious onset of hypoxia while attempting to correct the abnormalities without donning the mask. This scenario is fatal.

Not having the benefit of being part of a crew where the probability of early detection is greater due to crew communication, the solo pilot inherently must identify this dangerous scenario alone. If task oriented and in particular, task saturated, the pilot is at higher risk of missing the signs and symptoms of hypoxia while engaging his or her emergency procedures. This is due to the fact that the sensations of slow onset hypoxia are more subtle compared to the rapid explosive models making it more difficult to identify especially when task saturated.

To achieve this training objective the pilot needs to experience such a scenario in a safe and controlled training environment. By placing the pilot inside a high altitude chamber with a controlled slow cabin ascent rate further integrated with high fidelity avionics the pilot can explore his unique hypoxia experience as it relates to the avionics. The experience further enhances the pilot’s confidence that he or she will identify such a dangerous scenario thereby improving aviation safety. With proper training, hypoxia is 100% preventable.

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