Study Explains How to Predict Who will Be a Successful Pilot

October 25, 2016 Aon's Assessment Solutions

Airline recruiters can now select pilots by predicting which candidates will safely and successfully fulfil the different requirements of the role, according to a new white paper from Aon's Assessment Solutions, the international talent and assessment specialist.

Called The predictive power of assessment for pilot selection, the paper examines the specific abilities, competencies and personality required by pilots and it explains how to assess for these attributes using psychometric tests at an early stage of the recruitment process. The paper also reveals the physical and mental fitness needs of pilots. Building on existing research and empirical findings from new validation studies, it introduces a new competency model which will help airline recruiters to select the right pilots.

“When we board an aircraft, we entrust our lives to a complete stranger,” said Nora Nienhaus, Research Consultant at Aon's Assessment Solutions and author of the paper. “But there’s more to being a pilot than flying a plane. This paper will help recruiters to meet the challenge of selecting pilots who can cope with the tasks required before, during and after each flight, manage the crew and ensure the safety of all passengers and crew members.”

As well as the practical skills required to fly an aircraft, the paper highlights that pilots need:

  • Interactive competencies (leadership, teamwork and interpersonal skills to manage the crew and cooperate with control towers, ground crew, air traffic control and flight dispatchers; the ability to give clear guidelines, resolve conflict and take charge in the event of threat, error or misfortune).
  • Operational competencies (safety orientation; situational awareness; the ability to detect and manage errors; decision-making; planning and organising as well as customer and commercial orientation). 
  • Motivational competencies (self discipline; self management; assertiveness; resilience; drive; stress resistance and self development).

“These competencies can be evaluated by assessing the general mental ability and specific cognitive abilities of candidates,” said Nora Nienhaus. “Aptitude tests that measure aspects such as inductive and deductive reasoning, spatial orientation, precision and numerical reasoning should form part of pilot selection. Different tests will be required depending on the level of the pilots being assessed, for example captains or first officers.”

The paper highlights that personality has become a valid predictor of performance for pilots. When personality characteristics are combined with simulator results and flying experience prior to employment, the job success of pilots can be predicted with 79.3% accuracy.

“Pilots need to be able to remain calm in monotonous and sometimes stressful situations, make quick and sound decisions under pressure, persist in the face of difficulty and keep control of their emotions,” said Nora Nienhaus. “They need certain qualities, for example they have to be tough-minded and independent. Also the captain’s personality has a significant impact on the motivation and performance of the crew. When selecting pilots, you should therefore assess the personality of candidates to ensure they have what it takes to master the tasks and challenges they’ll face in the role. Successful pilots score high on the interpersonal scales of a personality questionnaire and low on the emotional scales.”

In addition to work-related assessments, other determinants of behaviour - such as a pilot’s mental state, their physical health and sleep or food deprivation - need to be assessed to avoid impulsivity and hazardous actions.

“Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot who deliberately crashed a Germanwings aircraft in the French Alps in 2015, had previously been treated for depression,” said Nora Nienhaus. “To be a pilot requires considerable psychological and personal resources, so it is vitally important that airlines appoint a clinical psychologist to test and retest each individual’s health and well-being throughout the job.”

The new paper introduces a validated competency model for airline pilots, detailing the interactive, operational and motivational competencies required in the role.

Aon’s Assessment Solutions is part of Aon’s global Human Capital business, helping clients achieve sustainable growth by driving business performance through people performance. Aon’s Assessment Solutions undertakes 30 million assessments each year in 90 countries and 40 languages.

About Aon

Aon plc (NYSE: AON) is a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions. Our 50,000 colleagues in 120 countries empower results for clients by using proprietary data and analytics to deliver insights that reduce volatility and improve performance.

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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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