Tag Archives: Airline pilot suitability tests

Are you fit as a pilot? Some points of view concerning the psychological aspects.

It is up to the Air Medical Examiner to investigate and assess if a pilot or a pilot candidate is really fit for flying. Many AME:s co-operate with experienced aviation psychologists in this matter in Sweden.
The text below is from an informative site from the UK CAA Medical Department about the requirements for the medical certification of aircrew.
Applicants shall have no established psychological deficiencies, which are likely to interfere with the safe exercise of the privileges of the applicable licence(s).
Class 1
(a) Where there is suspicion or established evidence that an applicant has a psychological disorder, the applicant should be referred for psychological opinion and advice.
(b) Established evidence should be verifiable information from an identifiable source which evokes doubts concerning the mental fitness or personality of a particular individual.  Sources for this information can be accidents or incidents, problems in training or proficiency checks, delinquency or knowledge relevant to the safe exercise of the privileges of the applicable licence.
(c) The psychological evaluation may include a collection of biographical data, the administration of aptitude as well as personality tests and psychological interview.
(d) The psychologist should submit a written report to the AME, AeMC or licensing authority as appropriate, detailing his/her opinion and recommendation

Class 2
Applicants with a psychological disorder may need to be referred for psychological or neuropsychiatric opinion and advice.

Examples of special psycho-neurological problems:

Dyslexia
Dyslexia is a disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010 because it is a long term impairment which can have an adverse effect on an individual’s ability to perform normal day to day activities.  Someone with dyslexia should, therefore, be entitled to reasonable adjustments to enable them to obtain and remain in employment.  However, it can never be considered reasonable to make adjustments that will compromise safety.
Although it is considered reasonable for students of most disciplines to have help from a scribe when writing essays, sitting exams etc. it cannot be considered reasonable for a pilot to have to rely on someone else when reading checklists, weather reports, instrument displays, charts etc. in flight.  Scribes or other aids to word recognition should not be permitted in pilot training for this reason.
Provided a pilot has been able to successfully complete the written work involved in training, he or she will have demonstrated a level of reading and writing ability sufficient to safely pilot an aircraft.  If an applicant for pilot licensing is unable to complete training without assistance with reading and writing there are no reasonable adjustments, with current technology, that can be made to enable him or her to safely fly solo or pursue a career in aviation.

Asperger syndrome
Asperger syndrome is an autistic spectrum disorder characterised by impaired social interaction and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour.  The DSM IV diagnostic criteria also include significant impairment in social or occupational functioning.  Nevertheless, language skills and cognitive development are not impaired and someone diagnosed with Asperger syndrome may be able to acquire the skills necessary to function safely as a pilot or air traffic controller.  Interpersonal difficulties may arise or emerge in the Crew Resource Management environment of the modern professional airline cockpit.  It is, of course, essential that an applicant with Asperger syndrome undergoes assessment by a psychologist with expertise in the condition before embarking on a career in aviation.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity (ADHD) Disorder
This condition is diagnosed (according to DSM-IV) when an individual demonstrates inattention, hyperactivity or impulsiveness sufficient to cause significant impairment in social, school or work functioning.  The impairment should have appeared before the age of seven years for the diagnosis to be made and may improve with age.
Therefore, anyone applying for pilot licensing who has been diagnosed with this condition must undergo neuropsychological assessment to assess the likelihood of them being able to perform safely as a pilot.  An individual with ongoing ADHD will not (by definition) be able to complete pilot training.  Medication used for this disorder is normally disqualifying.

Psychological requirements for airline pilots…and other professionals

The other day I was invited to give a brief speech as a final point of a Swedish Rotary association lunch meeting in Stockholm. The background was given: the horrible disaster when the Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed into the French alps in March this year. All indications point out, so far, that the crash was caused by a deliberate action made by the Flight Officer Andreas Lubitz, 28 years of age.
So, what about psychological suitability assessments of airline pilots prior to their eventual employments?
Could the tragical crash have been avoided if Andreas Lubitz had been thoroughly examined during or immediately after his basic pilot training?
Well, this is a hard question and the answer is not just a yes- or no-one. As far as I know all pilots applying to Lufthansa and/or Germanwings have to undergo a psychological screening selection before employment. But just some small remarks in general about psychological screening methods.

1. We Human beings are very complicated “animals”. We have psychological drives, which lead to certain impulses. We have a brain which mostly is overloaded by impressions and signals from both the outside and the somatic inside; these immense streams of information force the brain to select important things from less important things, resulting in that we experience just tiny parts of the events going on. We are for sure social creatures, meaning that we are all the time depending on all kinds of social environments where we dwell: family, friends, working conditions, work fellows, other groups. Any disturbances within one or all those groups create disturbances in you as an individual as well. Furthermore: each one of us has dreams, fantasies and visions about our future. Based upon those dreams we create our own self-pictures: this is what I want to become, and as I want to go that special way I imagine that I am more or less born to live up to the standards wished for; so, this is me! But the “me” is mostly just an imagination.
2. Are we rational creatures, meaning: are we able to make rational findings and rational decisions all of our time and during all of our life?
We may think so, or believe so, but even though man could create lots of fantastic inventions, leading to very trustworthy technical things (like for example aircraft) we, Human Beings, are most of the time not especially wise or well controlled.

So, who are we? Who are you? Who am I?
I cannot just trust your spontaneous answer on a question like that. I have to try my best to explore, to investigate, some of your inner cores.
And when I do so I mostly start using a battery of psychological tests. The majority of those tests aim to figure out your cognitive, intellectual capacities and skills.
How, in general, smart are you? Could you solve logical (deductive and/or inductive) problems that I present to you?
How about your alerting abilities or perceptions? Do you see the same things as I see? How fast are you in processing your intake of information parts? How sure are you that you get it all right?
How well do you understand basic natural scientific findings?
How about your working memory? Could you keep this series of numbers (14, 4, 96, 8, 210, 3) in your memory box during two minutes? Even during stress?
And how about your simultaneous capacity? Are you able to point your left thumb om all green dots, your right thumb on all yellow dots and during the same time give me an explanation of the forces that make an aircraft a lift off from the ground?

But the cognitive capacity is not all of you. You are much more than the speed of your brain cells when solving some problems.
How about your awareness of responsibility – in general? How about your sense of judgement – in general? How about your capacity for making decisions fast and elegant when you have many choices up front? And how about your general personal maturity?
And let me say this clear and loud: there are no personality tests that are very good in “measuring” such complex human matters. To investigate your personality, beside your cognitive structures, you have to encounter a professional skilled interviewer. And that interviewing person has better to have some experiences from what is called the clinical sector. He or she has to take steps behind your facade, not relying just to how you describe yourself, but what is behind your words, your sentences, your presentation of your own.

And you are more than all this. As a Human Being you are a socially interacting person. But how do you interact? How well are you listening to others, how well are you sensing others, how well do you respond to others. And those “others” may be your bosses, or your friends, or your spouse, or your children. How well do you “play music” with the others?
There are no reliable tests that measure such things. You have to become assessed by someone else, preferably a professional, perhaps an experienced psychologist or behavior scientist.

So, that is what psychological suitability assessments are about.
And back to the question: would it have been possible to detect any weak points in a young man’s personality prior to his position as an airline pilot? Well, what do you say….?
I would like to say: perhaps. But there are no screening selections systems that could lead to any absolute guarantees. Man is too complex. But even a not so very safe guarantee is for sure better than no guarantee at all. That is why I am definitely positive to well founded psychological selection systems, made and conducted by experienced psychologists or behavior scientists.
Any questions?