How to avoid expensive disappointment in helicopter pilot selection

The helicopter industry is faced with a severe challenge. The shortage of qualified pilots and mechanics will be soaring in the next years. So, could identify the pilot candidates traits with the psychological assessment from early on help with finding the adequate pilots?

According to a study[1]commissioned by Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) and conducted by the University of North Dakota (UND), the shortage in the USA alone will be 7,469 helicopter pilots between the years 2018 and 2036. While the lack of mechanics in the USA is projected to be a staggering 40,613 in the same period. According to the study, similar trends are reported by international operators.

It is clear that the helicopter industry needs first-class people to operate, maintain and support operations.

Leonardo AW139 helicopter simulator - help identify personality traits of pilot candidates

You can’t turn water into wine if you don’t have enough grapes

Obviously, one cornerstone in securing the availability of licensed workforce in the rotorcraft industry is high-quality training. However, even the best training cannot produce the required results if the individuals being trained merely do not possess the needed qualities regarding capacity, personality, and motivation.

Indeed, becoming a helicopter professional is not suitable for everyone. Only candidates that can safely carry out the demanding training and work should be selected. Recruiting the wrong people can waste time and money. Yet – above all – it creates a threat to safe and efficient operations. Stakes are high.

So, how can you be sure you will pick the most suitable applicants? Below are a few simple tips.

Simulators help identify personality traits of pilot candidates

First, you have to accept that papers, hours, type endorsements and interviews are not enough. You need a scientifically valid, standardized selection process executed by a professional. A professional who thoroughly understands the requirements of the job and the working environment. There are many well-established selection systems available, mainly developed for airlines or armed forces.

Typically, a career starts with initial training in educational institutions. Only applicants with good high school grades – mainly in mathematics, English and the mother tongue – are granted a right to study. After this, applicants are put through standardized psychological tests (capacity, personality, and practical performance). Interviews help to assess their motivational backgrounds, attitudes, and values. All test results should be evaluated by a competent licensed (aviation) psychologist.

If you are recruiting experienced personnel to your helicopter operator company, it is advisable also to analyze your organizational culture. This way you can assess the match between the applicants and their future working environment.

Furthermore, a simulator session gives valuable new information about the applicants. It offers useful indications of the candidates’ stress tolerance in emergency scenarios, for example.

In conclusion, if you neglect a proficient selection process and rely only on the power of training, you better be ready for expensive disappointments – both in the initial training phase and in later recruitment.


Matti Sorsa, Registered EuroPsy Psychologist at Pilot Select Oy

[1]UND-HAI Rotorcraft Pilot and Mechanic Supply Forecast; University of North Dakota; February 28, 2018

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