Competency takes the lead in IATA guidance for Pilot Aptitude Testing

Karen Moore | 11.11.2019

Through the publication of IATA's third edition of Guidance Material and Best Practices for Pilot Aptitude Testing (PAT) it is clear that objective measurement of competency needs to be a primary consideration through the entirety of not just the PAT process and time with training organisation, but the complete aviation career span. With ICAO predicting that the aviation sector will need to double in capacity by 2030, there is a pressing challenge for aviation training schools to meet the growing need for skilled air transport personnel without compromising on safety standards. Driven by the rapidly changing operational environment and a recognition of the need to develop a set of defined competencies for the urgently needed future Pilots, IATA’s new guidelines support the prediction of future performance through measurement of the new competency framework proposed by ICAO, with the intention of increasing operation safety.

As a chartered occupational psychologist working within the aviation sector for many years, I am pleased to see the increased awareness within the industry of the importance of establishing suitable and robust testing solutions which can help measure competencies throughout the complete aviation career lifespan.

Competencies as a predictor of future behaviour should be a vital consideration throughout all Pilot selection, recruitment and training. A competency is a measure of human performance, measured through behaviours that demonstrate knowledge, skills and attitudes, that is used to reliably predict successful performance in a job role or training environment. The ICAO stipulates eight pilot competencies, which are ‘developed by industry and ICAO, that every professional pilot, regardless of their role, should develop during training and deploy throughout his professional career’. The aim therefore is to predict behaviour across a variety of situations rather than measuring performance on a specific task, as IATA recognise that the traditional task-based training method previously adopted by the industry has reached its limits.

Traditionally competency requirements have focussed on individuals and specific tasks, rather than the wider team and role; with the use of technology and human-automaton interfaces, there is a greater need for competency requirements to be systemic and examine the ability to enhance the effectiveness of the larger picture, rather than simply measuring performance in an individual capacity. In order to achieve this, the defined competencies should be consistently applied throughout one’s whole aviation career, beginning with initial pilot aptitude testing (PAT), cemented throughout the ab-initio training process and continuing throughout promotion and command upgrade.

With the increased specificity and validity across all seniorities of these new guidelines, moving away from assumptions such as hours equals ability, IATA are strongly advocating the measurement of the same competencies when selecting or promoting experienced Pilots as will also be used to measure their performance in initial training. Symbiotics believe that this is definitely a step in the right direction, allowing performance to be tracked and monitored throughout someone’s entire career whilst formalising exactly what needs to be measured and how, helping the industry move towards more consistent procedures for selection and assessment. With the same guidance for all fleet and operator sizes, IATA are recognising and indeed recommending that smaller organisations would benefit from using an experienced partner for support implementing PAT. This will allow them to profit from the tighter selection procedures that identify both competency and fit for their organisational culture, therefore informing selection for those likely to show longer-term commitment.

A vital new inclusion with the third edition of the guidelines is the presence of personality traits as a recognised measurement to aid in selection, recruitment and training needs of Pilots and flight crew. Tying in with the new EASA (2018/1042) requirements for all Pilots to undergo psychological testing prior to commencement of line flying, it is clear that including personality criteria linked to job-related behaviours such as professional motivation and stress coping within selection is no longer something that operators should fear. Historic reservations about discrimination, or a lack of knowledge around what should be measured using these tools, are being rightly banished as growing awareness of how these traits affect competency and aptitude is recognised by aviation’s legislative bodies. Indeed, IATA states that the selection of suitable candidates requires discrimination between applicants, with expansion of this to include personality criteria. Success in role and safe management of the high stress, pressure and consequence cockpit environment can be predicted by some personality indicators.

It is clear from these updated guidelines around PAT, as well as from the latest regulations coming out of further legislative bodies such as EASA and ICAO, that an emphasis on competency-based assessment is the future of Pilot selection and recruitment. By implementing intelligent and informed solutions to the PAT process, with solutions fully geared towards identifying and assessing against the recognised Pilot competencies, the aviation industry will be able to successfully expand number of Pilots to meet the capacity requirements without compromising on safety.