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Personality can give you wings - Predicting Pilot Performance

30 July 2015

± minute read

    Personality can give you wings - Predicting Pilot Performance
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Originally posted by Psychometrics Canada

In May 2015, Mark Fitzsimmons, President of Psychometrics Canada, and Altharine Visagie, a psychometrician based in Johannesburg, were invited to speak at the Africa Congress of Psychology regarding the use of personality assessments to select high-performing flight crews in Canada and South Africa.

"We set out to see if there was evidence of a ‘global’ pilot personality profile in both Canada and South Africa, as well as to examine what traits would predict superior flight crew performance," reports Mark Fitzsimmons.

The study looked at 356 pilots across four airlines, three in South Africa and one in Canada. The airlines operated a variety of aircraft for scheduled and charter passenger service - everything from six seat single engine Cessna airplanes to Boeing jets configured for two hundred passengers.

A review of the Work Personality Index® (WPI) Job Match Profiles between the two nations showed that all the airlines in the study were looking for very similar personality traits in their pilot recruits. The only exception was the trait of Innovation; airlines operating smaller craft where pilots were required to take on additional responsibilities sought candidates with higher scores on Innovation.  Mainline carriers operating large passenger jets desired less innovative pilots.

Visagie explained that higher innovation is required in smaller South African operations because the pilots need to be open to new ideas and approaches – and be willing to complete tasks traditionally outside that of mainline pilots. This includes loading bags, greeting VIP customers at remote airfields, and making a variety of decisions that extend beyond the safe operation of their aircraft.

What all pilots had in common were above average scores in:

  • Rule-following
  • Collaborative decision making
  • Attention to detail
  • Persistence
  • Stress tolerance
  • Self-control
  • Dependability

As a group the pilots also scored lower than average on Flexibility. The airlines value pilots being planful and organised rather than spontaneous and unpredictable.

Further validity analysis of the Work Personality Index assessment results and job performance of 132 pilots found that the best pilots had high scores on Persistence, Rule-following and Dependability; and lower scores on Flexibility. These significant findings demonstrate that personality characteristics impact pilots’ performance and that the Work Personality Index assessment can identify effective pilots.

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