Is it all about the mission? Comparing non-technical skills across offshore transport and search and rescue helicopter pilots

Oliver Edwin Daniel Hamlet*, Amy Irwin, Molly McGregor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: The research objective of the current study was to examine and compare the non-technical skills utilized by search and rescue and offshore transport helicopter pilots. Background: Non-technical skills encompass the interpersonal and cognitive skills necessary for safe and efficient team performance in high-risk environments. There is a lack of research investigating non-technical skill use during helicopter flight or assessing differences in skills according to mission parameters. Method: The current study comprised 28 semi-structured qualitative interviews based upon the critical incident technique (16 offshore transport pilots, 12 search and rescue pilots). Interviews were thematically coded to identify, and compare, non-technical skills. Results: All key non-technical skills were reported across both pilot groups. Differences were identified at the element level of skills across the groups (e.g., while both groups reported utilizing situational awareness, elemental sub-components were based upon different attentional factors). A category for cognitive readiness was identified specific to search and rescue—this category encapsulated the elements necessary for a swift, effective response to emergencies. Conclusion: The results indicate helicopter pilots’ non-technical skills vary according to mission parameters, suggesting specific flight goals require different nuances of non-technical skills for mission achievement. We suggest that non-technical skills training should be tailored to the mission focus of helicopter pilots in order to further error mitigation strategies, enrich training relevance, and enhance effectiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-235
Number of pages21
JournalThe International Journal of Aerospace Psychology
Issue number3-4
Early online date2 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank all of the pilots for taking the time to participate in this study.
For the purposes of confidentiality, the manuscript’s dataset cannot be shared.


  • situation awareness
  • decision making
  • Crew Resource Management
  • qualitative methods
  • team training


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