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Aviation Psychology (Definition)

Pilot Selection

Aviation Psychology (Definition)

What is the goal of Aviation Psychology?

The goal of aviation psychology is to understand and predict the behavior of individuals engaged in aviation in order to improve the productivity, safety and well-being of all involved. This includes passengers and pilots, air traffic controllers, crew members, and professionals working on the ground and for the aviation authorities. (C) 2016 Monica Martinussen

What are topics of Aviation Psychology?

There are many topics and areas in aviation where psychological knowledge has been used to understand, predict and influence behavior ever since the very beginning of aviation. The list below includes some of these areas or topics in alphabetical order:

  • Accidents and incident investigations
  • Crew/ Team Resource Management
  • Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM)
  • Education and Training
  • Fatigue Risk Management
  • Fear of flying
  • Gender issues
  • Mental Health
  • Unruly passengers (air rage)
  • Recruitment and Selection
  • Safety culture
  • Stress
  • System and cockpit design

Last Update: EAAP 03.09.2016

Pilot Selection

How does a modern selection system look like?

A modern selection system for ab initio pilot selection (without any prior training) usually involves several steps and normally takes 1-3 days. In many cases, only the 5-10% top candidates are admitted to basic flying training.

The first step usually involves some formal qualifications in terms of prior education, good health and a security clearance. The next step involves testing with different cognitive ability and skills tests (either paper- and –pencil and/or computerized tests). The more comprehensive and time-consuming tests are usually administered later in the process. Some organizations may use tests or procedures for assessing personality traits and other personal skills assumed important for completing training and performing well on the job.

Finally, the candidates are interviewed by a psychologist to assess aspects such as motivation, interpersonal skills, leadership ability and stress tolerance. Not all candidates go through the whole process, but may if they fail some of the early tests, be excluded from the later steps in the selection process.

After the interview, all the information is combined and a final decision is made regarding whether or not the candidate is accepted. In addition, there will be further medical examinations before the candidate is finally accepted. Most military Air Forces select and train their own candidates whereas many airline companies prefer to hire pilots who already have a lot of flying experience.

The selection process may then be somewhat different than ab-initio pilot selection. It may involve psychological testing, simulator performance, and interviews, but not always.

In order to examine how well the methods and tests work in predicting future pilot performance, validation studies are conducted. They usually involve that test results and other types of information is compared to training or work performance for a group of pilots. The findings are usually summarized in terms of correlation coefficients which express the strength of the association between test results and later performance. A large number of studies have been conducted over the years and have been summarized in meta-analyses.

More information may be found:

DLR (German Aerospace center):

Aviation Psychology and Applied Human Factors:


Carretta, T. R., & Ree, M. J. (2003). Pilot selection methods. I P. S. Tsang, & M. A. Vidulich (Red.), Principles and practice of aviation psychology (ss. 357-396). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hunter, D. R., & Burke, E. F. (1994). Predicting aircraft pilot training: A meta-analysis of published research. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 4, 297-313.

Martinussen, M. (1996). Psychological measures as predictors of pilot performance: A meta-analysis. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 6, 1-20.

Martinussen, M., & Hunter D. R. (2010). Aviation Psychology and Human Factors. New York: Taylor and Francis.

Last Update: EAAP 05.09.2016

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