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Pilot Aptitude Assessment

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Category: Human Behaviour Human Behaviour
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Background

Whilst flight crew training is one of the main drivers for operational safety, the quality of recruits entering the industry is a primary factor to the success of that training. In periods of strong growth, pilot supply comes under increased pressure. If the quality of new entrants in a given organisation declines, longer-term operational safety may be compromised and the task of training organisations becomes more challenging. It is, therefore, considered critical that every effort, and every available process, be used to ensure that the best qualified candidates are selected. To help its membership achieve that goal, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has developed and published a guide entitled Guidance Material and Best Practices for Pilot Aptitude Testing.

Description

The term pilot aptitude assessment can be all-encompassing, overarching all areas of pilot selection including aptitude diagnostics and assessment of areas well beyond aircraft handling skills. The primary measurement dimensions of pilot aptitude tests can include:

  • Basic abilities (physical and mental)
  • Operational competencies
  • Social competencies
  • Personality traits

The implementation of a robust and transparent aptitude testing system process can allow an operator to ascertain whether or not a pilot is willing and capable of accepting the inevitable pressures of life-long learning, training and checking, which are pre-requisites for flying technologically advanced aircraft.

Whilst aptitude testing systems are not infallible in predicting the future performance of pilots, if they are developed and designed responsibly, they can offer valuable guidance to the operator. There is consensus amongst experts in the field that performance of pilots can be reasonably well predicted by means of aptitude testing and assessment.

Measurement Dimensions of Pilot Aptitude Tests

Notwithstanding that the content of an aptitude test battery must be adapted to the experience level of the candidate, there are numerous measuring dimensions that can be applied to pilot aptitude testing. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Basic Mental Abilities:
    • logic abilities
    • memory capacity
    • serial learning
    • visual processing
  • Operational Competencies:
    • Psychomotor tasks:
    • Strategic competencies:
      • Prevention
      • Minimizing risk
      • Compensatory strategies
      • Dealing with ambiguity
      • Management competencies:
      • Problem-solving
        • Collection of information
        • Derivation of hypotheses
        • Hypotheses checks
        • Derivation of task concepts
  • Social competencies:
    • Communication skills
    • Cooperation
    • Assertiveness
    • Leadership
  • Personality traits:
    • Self discipline
    • Self-critical attitudes
    • Stress management
    • Self organization
    • Professional aspiration level

In general terms, cadets will usually be subject to the most comprehensive test program while experienced captains will receive the least. Ab-initio cadets, for example, cannot be expected to have aviation-specific technical knowledge but they must possess a good foundation of academic qualifications. Captains will need to demonstrate professional aviation knowledge and should possess the social competencies required to practice good Threat and Error Management (TEM) and Crew Resource Management (CRM). First officers should be able to demonstrate the ability to adapt to new environments, challenges and policies.

Methodology

In general terms, the hiring process at most companies consists of:

  • Establishing requirements
  • Posting job advertisement
  • Screening and selection of applicants
  • Interview/aptitude testing of selected candidates
  • Evaluation of test and interview results
  • Hiring decision

Of these steps, screening, interview/aptitude testing, and test evaluation are the most critical to overall success. A well-structured screening, testing and evaluation process will play a key role in the success of the recruitment process and in determining the quality of the staff hired. However, before commencing these processes, it is essential that there is a clear definition of the job requirement profile. This profile is based on a job analysis and identifies the dimensions. commonly called KSAs (knowledge, skills and attitudes) and personality traits, required to perform the job within the company context.

Screening and Selection

Screening is often used at the beginning of the hiring process to eliminate those candidates who send applications without meeting the predefined requirements. However, care should be taken to not be overly stringent at this stage in order to avoid the premature exclusion of suitable candidates. Screening can also be used to identify the best among a group of qualified applicants. Screening tools include:

  • review of applicant CVs
  • contact of references
  • questionnaires
  • screening interviews.

Interview and Aptitude Testing

According to IATA, a complete battery of aptitude tests will consist of at least:

  • Tests of basic mental abilities
  • Tests of operational competencies
  • Tests of social competencies
  • Interviews to capture relevant personality traits

Testing can be accomplished using any or all of:

  • paper-pencil tests
  • computer based tests
  • psychometric apparatus tests
  • computer based psychometric tests
  • simulator based tests
  • group scenarios
  • interviews

Test Evaluation

Using the results of aptitude testing to reliably predict the future performance of pilots is dependent upon a number of factors. These include:

  • Test reliability - the accuracy and consistency of the measurement characteristic of a given test is called reliability. When interpreting test scores, it is necessary to know how well they differentiate the given levels of abilities of various candidates
  • Test validity - the validity of a test expresses the extent to which it actually measures what it has been designed to measure
  • Norm - A raw score is meaningless unless there is a "norm" to which it can be compared. Comparing the candidate’s performance with the norm allows determination of how far the candidate’s performance is above or below the performance of the comparison group
  • Measurement scales - A pass/fail designation holds little value in the context of aptitude assessment. Conversely, scales are useful for expressing the results of performance measurements in a numeric way. A minimum of three, fixed interval, possible scores are required while four or more possible scores provide greater discrimination. A scale such as unsatisfactory/low average/average/superior/outstanding, with an appropriate numerical equivalency, could be used to express test results in a meaningful way.

Where the testing is subjective, that is the scoring is based on the judgement of the evaluator, it is critical that evaluators are trained appropriately and that inter evaluator scoring is consistent. In other words, all evaluators should assign the same score to a given performance. This factor is often referred to as "inter rater reliability".

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Further Reading

IATA