No, that is not a typo. Teamwork in the form of crew resource management (CRM) is certainly important for both preventing and handling abnormal and emergency situations, but so is the concept of threat and error management (TEM). The TEM concept originated in the 1990s, when the University of Texas Human Factors Research Project and a major U.S. air carrier teamed up to evaluate CRM behavior in real-world operations. Through observations gained in these structured evaluations, called Line Operations Safety Audits (LOSA), the researchers became interested in threat and error management as an umbrella way of looking at human performance in the context of actual aviation operations.
The Elements of TEM. Although the principles and practices of Aeronautical Decision Making, CRM, and the myriad regulations, policies, and procedures pilots follow are designed to prevent errors to the greatest possible extent, a key part of the TEM concept is that human beings still make mistakes, and stuff happens notwithstanding our best efforts. Since these threats and errors can create undesired states that undermine safety, TEM posits that pilots must learn to manage them.
A formal paper by Ashleigh Merritt and James Klinect, two of the University of Texas researchers, formally defines the three TEM elements as follows:
Threats are events or errors that (a) occur outside the influence of the flight crew, i.e., not caused by the crew; (b) increase the operational complexity of a flight; and (c) require crew attention and management in order to maintain safety margins. Threats can include mechanical malfunctions, bad weather, high terrain, or mistakes made by others.
Errors are flight-crew actions or inactions that (a) lead to a deviation from crew or organizational intentions or expectations; (b) reduce safety margins; and (c) increase the probability of adverse operational events on the ground or during flight. The researchers note that flight crew errors generally fall into one of three categories: aircraft handling mistakes; procedural errors, e.g., deviation from regulations or standard operating procedures; and communication errors.
Undesired state refers to a position, speed, attitude, or configuration of an aircraft that results from flight crew error, actions, or inaction and clearly reduces safety margins. The researchers concluded that the crew’s ability to detect, identify, and manage (mitigate) the undesired state makes all the difference. On an unstable approach, for instance, a crew that recognizes the condition and takes prompt and proper corrective action can return the flight to a normal condition. If, however, the crew mismanages this condition, the undesired state could develop into an incident or accident.
Managing Threats and Errors. To manage threats and errors, the flight crew must constantly work to anticipate, recognize, and recover. Think of anticipation as Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong, it will. Anticipation leads to vigilance, which contributes to recognizing threats, errors, and undesired states in time to take corrective action. Recovery, of course, is the process of efficiently eliminating the undesired state.
The authors of TEM describe it as both a philosophy of safety and a practical set of techniques. Used as such, it can make you a better-and safer-pilot. (FAA Safety Briefing – NovDec 2010)