Successful Pilot Training is Not Enough to Predict Pilot Success

September 17, 2020 Aon's Assessment Solutions

Despite the current downturn in the aviation sector, it is accepted that the best estimates made in 2018 of commercial pilot growth remain valid. That is, to meet the expected growth in air travel over the next 20 years, the industry requires over 300,000 new commercial airline pilots. This means the industry has a significant talent strategy to plan and deliver.

To meet these high growth numbers for the profession, three shifts need to happen.

  1. Generate more interest in pilot training. Commentators suggest that the industry could do more to raise awareness of the profession’s opportunities, to encourage girls to consider flying and to educate school children about relevant subject choices for the industry.
  2. Make the profession more family-friendly. There is little doubt that global travel has a glamorous image. However, for those women entering the profession and thinking of starting a family, down-time from flying can be seen as career-limiting. There are calls to relook at scheduling shifts and designing family-friendly policies.
  3. Re-examine how training is funded. Training to be a pilot is expensive. Initial flight school training is privately funded by 98% of attendees and this runs into tens of thousands of dollars. Airlines taking onboard cadets invest significantly in providing intensive study, simulator sessions and flight training to develop cadets into command roles. To encourage more people to consider pilot training, some believe an overhaul of the funding of pilot training needs to take place. Discussion around unsecured loans continues. One would assume that the risk of defaulting on such a loan for a course with a high pass rate for an in-demand profession would be small and, therefore, loans would be readily available. That is not the case. Indeed, very few banks are willing to loan the substantial fees. Perhaps the sector needs to get smarter at developing and articulating the story of pilot demand. Another lending source could be airlines, with employees repaying over time.

And yet, even if these three shifts occur and more people are successfully trained, success as a commercial pilot is not guaranteed. Airlines need to recruit skilled pilots who can navigate and fly the aircraft - but who are also able to work with the team, are committed to passenger and crew safety and seek to deliver a world-class customer service.

Going Beyond the Skills of Flying an Aircraft

Taking up a position of command requires more than an expert flying skill. First officers and captains need to lead a team, handle multiple tasks, keep cool under pressure, be authoritative during decision-making and be a brand ambassador for the airline. These are not behaviors learned during training – and yet are essential to success.

Find Out Who Will be Successful Before Investing in Training

Not all who attend flight school will complete the course – and those who do complete it may not obtain a position with a commercial airline. With training costs of $100,000, would it not be useful to understand if would-be pilots possess the behaviors and competencies that will lead to success as a pilot?

Aon’s Pilot Model

Following a pioneering study of literature reviews, job analysis findings, empirical evidence gathering and global validation research, Aon’s Pilot Model maps out the essential abilities, behaviors and competencies needed at each pilot level, from cadet to captain. While the operational, personal interaction and motivational competencies are broadly similar for cadets, first officers and captains (safety orientation, decision-making, customer and commercial orientation, teamwork, interpersonal skills, resilience, self-discipline, dedication, drive and an interest in self-development) there are differences in the level of competency required at each level.

With Aon’s research, it is now possible to create a profile of the behaviors required which can be measured during initial recruitment and at promotion. Airlines can make more informed decisions - going beyond flight school course completion, and perhaps, in the future, candidates will gain a better understanding of their own suitability for the role. We believe this will be a key area in the coming years.

Next Steps

If you would like to know more about how to assess for the behavioral competencies of pilots, contact us.

Watch the episode of our webinar series, Coming Through the Clouds, in which Aon’s David Barrett hosts a discussion with Andy O’Shea, chairman of the Aircrew Training Policy Group at EASA, Simon Azar, vice president of strategy and marketing at CAE and Brian Jilley, head of general aviation at Aon’s Commercial Risk Solutions.

About the Author

Aon creates smart measurement solutions with valid and innovative online assessment products. Aon is globally the preferred partner for organisations who demand the best.

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