Pilot Personality – ALPA

April 19th, 2010

This post has been attributed to ALPA, the American airline pilot’s association. We used it to back up a commonly used phrase in the MCC (multi-crew cooperation) course I teach that most typical pilot personalities should not be allowed in the modern multi-crew environment. I like to try to cushion the blow by adding the word ‘male’ to the ‘most typical pilots’ phrase – but reading this, unfortunately, it’s all too true! Fortunately, the statement that being aware of your deficiencies is the first step to fixing them, is also true. And courses like MCC and CRM, if taken seriously and not just as a box to tick, are helping us all with the rest of the steps, to ensure the additional crew members do help make the operation safer.

The Pilot Personality (courtesy of ALPA)

Pilots are a distinct segment of the general population. In addition to flying skills, pilots are selected for their personalities and for a distinct “pilot persona.” These characteristics make them safer pilots.
Pilots tend to be physically and mentally healthy. Pilots tend to be “reality based,” because by the very nature of their work they are constantly testing reality. There are those, however who would dispute this claim.
Pilots tend to be self-sufficient and may have difficulty functioning in team situations without CRM and other training. They have difficulty trusting anyone to do the job as well as they can. Pilots tend to be suspicious, even a little paranoid. In moderation, this quality serves them well within their environment and is, in fact, a quality that managements look for in the pilot personality. Outside the cockpit, this quality shows up in the tendency of many pilots to set two or three alarm clocks– even though he or she may generally wake up before any of these go off. The suspicious/paranoid tendency also affects the way pilots function in their private lives, as well.
Pilots tend to be intelligent but are typically not intellectually oriented. They like “toys”– boats, cars, motorcycles, big watches, etc. They are good at taking things apart, if not putting them back together. Pilots are concrete, practical, linear thinkers rather than abstract, philosophical, or theoretical. On a scale that ranges from analytically oriented to emotionally oriented, pilots tend to be toward the analytical end. They are extremely reality- and goal-oriented. They like lists showing concrete problems, not talking about them. This goal orientation tends towards the short term as opposed to the long term. Pilots are bimodal: on/off, black/white, good/bad, safe/unsafe, regulations/non-regulations.
Pilots are inclined to modify their environment rather than their own behaviour. Pilots need excitement; a 9-to-5 job would drive most pilots to distraction. Pilots are competitive, being driven by a need to achieve, and don’t handle failure particularly well. Pilots have a low tolerance for personal imperfection, and long memories of perceived injustices.
Pilots tend to be scanners, drawing conclusions rapidly about situational facts. Pilots scan people as if they were instruments; they draw conclusions at a glance rather than relying on long and emotion-laden conversations.
Pilots avoid introspection and have difficulty revealing, expressing, or even recognizing their feelings. When they do experience unwanted feelings, they tend to mask them, sometimes with humour or even anger. Being unemotional helps pilots deal with crises, but can make them insensitive toward the feelings of others. The spouses and children of pilots frequently complain that the pilot has difficulty expressing complex human emotions toward them.
This emotional “block” can create difficulty communicating. How many incidents or accidents have occurred due to poor communications? The vast majority of Professional Standards cases will be caused by poor communication.

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