In a joint presentation Tuesday afternoon at BASS 2023, Captain Kimberly Perkins and Jennifer Pickerel, vice president at Aviation Personnel International (API), said that culture can be closely linked to aviation safety.

Perkins (right), who is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington, said the efficacy of safety models and systems depends on culture, which she described as the way people behave, as well as the attitudes and beliefs that inform that behavior. 

Perkins said that both safety management systems (SMS) and crew resource management (CRM) require organizations to monitor and improve organizational culture, but she pointed out that there are no industry tools to measure culture. This is a gap she is working to resolve through her doctoral research. 

Pickerel took the data from Perkins’ research and added color to it by sharing insight from her role at API. In API’s more than 50-year history, it has conducted over 1,000 cultural studies of Part 91 flight departments. 

Pickerel shared the trends, successes and failures of these studies, particularly regarding healthy (or not) culture and safety. The takeaway was that healthy flight department cultures that lead with inclusivity and foster psychological safety can retain and attract top talent.

Perkins also highlighted how cognitive biases influence behavior. She discussed psychological safety as a necessary component in creating culture and defined interpersonal communication.

Perkins and Pickerel advocated for intentionality, training and focus aimed at improving organizational culture and flight deck “microcultures” to continuously enhance safety.

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