Leadership roles and responsibilities of cockpit and cabin crews during emergencies


In 2013, Bienefeld and Grote conducted an experimental research to examine leadership roles played by the cockpit and cabin crews during emergency situations. The basis of this research is the accident that occurred on the 2nd June 1982 involving flight no. 797 operated by Air Canada from Dallas to Toronto that lead to 23 deaths.

The study is aimed at examining the effects of shared leadership within and across safety teams in what is called Multi-team Systems (MTS). The study was aimed at improving the traditionally vertical leadership structure of aircrew i.e. captain down to the cabin crew.

This is a meta-analysis article of the original article published by Bienefeld and Grote in 2013.

Out of a total of 84 aircrews, more than 71% of aircrews succeeded in displaying leadership according to established predefined criteria and also achieved team attainment goals. Descriptive statistics for leadership and team goal attainment are shown in the tables below1.

Table 1: Team goal attainment
Successful MTS Unsuccessful MTS Difference %Difference
Cockpit crew 38.56 38.11 -.45 1.1
Cabin crew 30.86 25.7 -5.16 20.1

Leadership attainment (table 2) scores for captain and first officer were grouped together under cockpit crew leadership, the same with pursers’ and flight attendants’ score.

Table 2: MTS Leadership attainment
Successful MTS Successful MTS Unsuccessful MTS Unsuccessful MTS
Min. Score .59** 2 0*3 .12 .24
Max. Score 1.53** 2.12** 1.06 1.65

Reliability of results

The results of the research may generally be applied to the population of aircrews. The number of experimental groups was fairly large even though it was all volunteers. All the processes were validated by subject matter experts (even though some were validated at face value). A 12% of actual data was used to check interrater reliability of the processes and yielded a minimum reliability of 82%.


Research approach

Exploratory research was performed in a flight simulator to examine the effects of shared leadership with-in and across teams in multi-team system.


A total number of 504 cockpit and crew members from European airlines volunteered to partake in the study. The role of participants in the research was in line with participants’ occupation. The group was sub-divided into six-crew members, comprising the captain, first officer, purser and three-cabin crew. The job experience of the participants varied from relatively new (one year in employment) to relative experienced (about 37 years in employment). No incentive was offered to the participants to partake in the study.


  • The Airbus A320 mixed-crew flight simulator;
  • Track-Vivo video software was used to capture concurrent behavioural events of the group. The video footage was only used to measure reliability of the research;
  • Goal attainment of the team was measured by using a well-established method called PROLOFT, a scenario-specific checklist-based goal attainment scale system;
  • Subject matter experts were used to validate a weighing scale devised for the scoring of points. This was achieved by use of Delphi technique; and
  • Pre-defined leadership framework functions.


  • Independent variable – Leadership action;
  • Dependent variables – Aircrew and team attainment; and
  • Cofounding variables – Job experience and gender of participants.


The study took place over a period of approximately 120 days. Safety refresher training courses were offered to the participants before the study. The procedure followed for conducting a research was:

  • Random selection of aircrew members followed by pre-flight briefing;
  • About 30 minute flight with aircrew and passengers; and
  • Post-flight de-briefing.

MTS goal attainment was measured by achieving two set of goals.

  • Aircraft is landed at the closest suitable airport; and
  • Passengers are relocated to a smoke-free area; smoke was contained, and passengers and cabin crew were fully prepared for the emergency landing and evacuation.

Data analysis

  • The original article provided descriptive statistics. The unit of measure was observed leadership action divided by the action period. This unit was favoured because it captured the variable in question more accurately.
  • The independent T-test and multiple regression was performed in the original article.
  • The main focus for this meta-analysis is descriptive statistics measuring team goal and leadership attainment MTS aircrews.
1. BIENEFELD Nadine & Gudela GROTE (2013). Shared leadership in multi-team systems: how cockpit and cabin crews lead each other to safety. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 17 May 2013.
+++ Notes +++
2. A leadership score of pursers across groups is omitted here simply because one cannot tell from the original article the direction of the leadership action (whether leadership was from the cockpit team directed to cabin crew or vis-à-vis).

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