Airline Pilots' Experiences in and Reactions to Their Check Rides: Results from a Nationwide, Representative Survey

Despite sensationalistic news reports that might lead one to believe otherwise, commercial aviation remains the safest form of mass transportation in the United States. In fact, the probability of surviving any given flight is greater than 99.99%.  This impressive safety record is due in part to the rigorous training and evaluation procedures that commercial pilots undergo.

The focus of this paper is on the individual-level, post-training evaluations which are also known as “check rides.”  The purpose was to assess the relative effectiveness of different approaches to checking pilot performance at the end of training: the maneuver validation (MV) and the Line Operational Evaluation (LOE).

The MV requires each pilot to individually perform a series of critical maneuvers that are graded according to FAA and airline standards. Although the MV is conducted in a full crew  environment, each pilot must demonstrate his or her individual skill proficiency on every maneuver. Because the LOE provides greater contextual cues and integrates Crew Resource Management skills with technical skills, it should simulate typical line operations more accurately than a traditional maneuver validation. Therefore, we hypothesized that pilots would rate the LOE as more useful than the MV.

Results

On average, the respondents rated both types of checking procedures favorably. Moreover, despite having a representative sample, reliable scales, and a high degree of statistical power, we found no practically or statistically significant differences between the perceived effectiveness of MVs and LOEs. The data suggest that airline pilots perceive both types of check rides as being equally effective. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.