Airline Pilot Interview Process

By Greg Thomson

The idea of working as a pilot job often evokes a handsomely paid professional gallivanting around the world. The industry goes through spurts where the pilot profession has little more glory and pay than a bus driver but in environments like today where pilots are in high demand the high pay is once again becoming the norm.

As is the case with many professional jobs, pilots work their way up through rungs on a career ladder. This ladder often starts in entry level jobs  such as flight instructing or working as a tour pilot and eventually ends up at the pinnacle of flying a widebody airline for a legacy airline.

Getting into each different step in the pilot career ladder has different types of, and phases to the evaluation process. Described below is what a person can expect when attempting to get a job with a legacy or major airline.

Pilot Job Search

The pilot job search is often a pretty standard compared to other professions. Pilots can use a combination of jobs boards, company website jobs listings, job conferences, recruiters, and staffing agencies. Unique for pilots is third party application websites where pilots must pay to be able to apply to companies. With the depending of a pilot shortage other unique methods are emerging such as services that programmatically match pilot qualifications and employment goals to available jobs.

Application Windows

Many employers will post pilot job openings as they become available, and will then interview qualified applicants as they apply to positions. However, some major and legacy airlines in the United States use application windows where pilots are only able to apply to positions during narrow windows of time. The employers will then pick from the pool of qualified applicants to interview. Those pilots hired can then often wait in a hired pool as the employer fills classes throughout the year to meet their needs.

Phone Screening

Most airline pilot interviews begin with a telephone screening. This is usually conducted by an assistant in the chief pilot’s office or by a human resources professional. This is used to determine the applicants current interest in the position and get a general idea of their suitability.

Panel Interview

Pilot interviews are usually conducted by a panel of people that includes representatives from human resources. If it is a combined interview there will also be line pilots as well and representatives from the Chief Pilot’s office in the interview.

This phase is used to judge the applicant on their suitability for the company and the work. They are asked standard interview questions as well as questions used to evaluate their judgement as a pilot.

Most airlines use the behavioral interview technique to assess job candidates based on their past behavior. Examples of these questions include:

  • Have you ever had to deviate from a flight plan or employer instructions?
  • Name a time when you went out of your way for a customer?
  • Describe a dispute that you had with a colleague?

Flight Operations Interview

With some airlines the flight operations team will interview the pilot applicant separate from human resources. The questions will often be similar to the behavioral interview technique mentioned above but will be more technical in nature.

Psychometric/Aptitude Testing

Aptitude testing is becoming increasingly common for pilots seeking jobs with airlines. Aptitude testing (sometimes referred to as psychometric testing) is used to measure an individuals ability to complete a task at a given competency level. Aptitude is a natural attribute – it can not be learned or acquired.

It is common for pilots to be evaluated in the following areas:

  • Spatial Orientation/Awareness
  • Numerical Reasoning
  • Mental Arithmetic
  • Hand to Eye Coordination
  • Capacity
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Mechanical Reasoning
  • Memory / Recall Testing
  • Personality Test
  • Hand eye co-ordination
  • Reaction time
  • Multi tasking
  • Pattern recognition
  • Data analysis
  • Estimation accuracy

Simulator Evaluation

After making it through the phases above pilots will advance into technical evaluation of their knowledge and skills as a pilot. The more involved part of this includes flying a profile in a full motion simulator. Most large airlines have their own simulators and will usually conduct this evaluation in these.

During the simulator evaluation the pilot will fly both normal operations and profiles and will usually be presented with at least one emergency. During this time pilots are being evaluated not only on their basic airmanship skills but also on their ability to work in a team and situational awareness.

Technical Knowledge Evaluation

The pilot technical knowledge evaluation is usually a one-on-one oral exam from another pilot. This exam includes testing the applicant in:

  • Aerodynamics
  • Turbine engine theory
  • Navigation
  • Atmosphere and Speed
  • Aircraft Instruments and Systems
  • Performance and Flight Planning
  • Meteorology and Weather Recognition
  • Flight Operations and Technique
  • Human Performance
  • Regulations
  • Technical knowledge on the airplane the pilot is currently flying