Aviation psychology: what is it and what does it do

If we are talking about aviation psychology, many may wonder what airplanes have to do with psychology. It is not the planes themselves that preoccupy psychology, but who manages them.

Flying an airplane or any other plane is not a task to be taken lightly. It requires skills, adequate knowledge and, on top of that, good mental health.

Aviation psychology is responsible for evaluating and intervening in the mental health of aviation professionals, In addition to assessing who is best placed to practice these professions. Below we will find out its importance.

    What is aviation psychology?

    Aviation psychology is the branch of psychology that deals with assess, diagnose, treat and select the air professionals who have the best skills and the best mental health to be able to work with aircraft, Either by piloting them, or by helping the one who pilots them. Aviation psychologists assess pilots, according to commanders, cabin crew and air traffic controllers. In Spain, this diploma has been recognized since 2017 and psychologists are accredited as experts in aeronautical psychology.

    Flying an airplane is a very risky job and requires a lot of responsibility. It is essential that those who operate an aircraft make full use of their mental faculties and demonstrate their knowledge and physical ability to perform their jobs. Whether in the civil or military field, the profession of pilot, as well as that of air traffic controller and cabin crew, must be exercised by prepared and mentally stable people.

    The origins of aviation psychology can be traced back to World War II, when it was necessary to select soldiers capable of piloting an airplane., In addition to presenting the ideal psychological and emotional characteristics not to be altered in the middle of a battle. At that time, questionnaires were distributed to see what were the intellectual and personal capacities of potential pilots, and thus to ensure that a good air force was in place.

    Over time and with the popularization of aircraft as civilian vehicles, psychologists working in the field of aviation have devoted themselves to evaluating other important aspects of the life of pilots. Among them are the occasional sense of stress they may present, organizational changes and influences on airlines, fear of being able to crash the plane due to human error, and the need to assess whether they are going through a bad time.

    Aviation psychologists are not only responsible for assessing the well-being of the air professional, but, they are also responsible for managing crisis situations, particularly in the event of an accident or air incident. Thus, the profession of aeronautical psychologist, associated with that of emergency psychologist, can be very useful in situations such as a plane crash, a hijacking, a forced landing …

    Assessment of commanders and second pilots

    The main objective of aviation psychologists is to assess commanders and second pilots, although they also care about the psychological characteristics and emotional stability of air traffic controllers and cabin crew. However, since the pilot is the one who directly flies the aircraft, it is necessary to ensure that he has the appropriate psychological capacity to fly the aircraft.

    Flying an airplane is obviously a complicated task. Not only in the knowledge aspect, but also in the psychological aspect, because whoever manipulates the machine is aware that he has a great responsibility and that in case of error it can be fatal. To be a pilot, you cannot have an unstable personality: you must have cool personality traits, in that in the event of an unforeseen event the pilot will do everything possible not to end up in an accident.

    Aviation psychologists are responsible for assessing candidates for flight, assessing whether they have this coldness, and seeing how responsible they are. At the same time, the psychological well-being of the pilot and other flight professionals is assessed, to see if he suffers from a mental disorder that could compromise his safety and that of the passengers on a flight. Among the pathological aspects that the aeronautical psychologist assesses, we have:

    • Anxiety Levels
    • Symptom of severe depression
    • suicidal thoughts
    • psychosomatic symptoms

    The assessment includes open and closed questions and questionnaires, Which help in the aeronautical psychological assessment process. With the use of psychometric tests, you can collect information of all kinds to see if there is a problem or if the person has an unstable personality type. It is very important for the psychologist to know whether the person being assessed is trying to portray a good image or disguise a problem.

    The application of mood tests should be done frequentlyAs the emotional state of runners can vary greatly from week to week. Considering the great responsibility they have on their shoulders and what their profession entails, they should be assessed at least every few weeks to ensure that their emotional state is not too altered that they cannot fly the plane.

      Clinical treatment of aviation personnel

      As we mentioned before, the responsibility especially of pilots and according to commanders is so great that any symptom indicating that they might have psychopathology cannot be overlooked. The psychological well-being of the pilot is not only an important aspect for his person, but it is also a matter of public safety. A pilot is, in essence, the driver of a vehicle which, as a rule, usually carries a large number of passengers.

      If a pilot is depressed and also has thoughts of suicide, there is a risk that, if left untreated, he will commit suicide in mid-flight. There are already precedents: on March 24, 2015, the co-pilot of Germanwings flight 9525, Andreas Günter Lubitz, deliberately crashed the plane in the French Alps, killing himself and that of 149 other people who were on the plane. . The investigation concluded that he had psychopathic traits, suicidal ideation and had refused sick leave.

      This is why, besides the fact that the evaluation and the selection of the pilots cannot be done without the necessary work of the psychologist, in the event of detection of possible disorders or psychological problems, it is necessary to intervene. Treatment is extremely necessary in pilots, regardless of the severity of their emotional problems. Any badly treated problem can crystallize and become chronic so that the pilot ends up developing a true depressive, psychotic and suicidal image.As was the case with the Germanwings pilot.

      Aviation crisis intervention

      The aviation psychologist not only assesses, diagnoses and treats air personnel. One of its main missions is to intervene in aeronautical crises. By this type of crisis is meant a plane crashes, hijackings, mid-air bombings and any situation in which a major air crash has occurred.

      Airplanes are very manned vehicles and difficult to save in the event of human error or any serious unforeseen event during flight, so in the event of an accident the consequences are often fatal.

      Aviation psychologists, as well as emergency management psychologists, they are directly involved with survivors and staff involved in victim assistance. In addition, they are responsible for helping to manage the discomfort of relatives and friends of those injured or who died in the accident, with the intention of preventing this experience from becoming a serious anxiety disorder, in particular a disorder of post-traumatic stress.

      Importance of the aviation psychologist

      By looking at the previous sections, we can understand the importance of psychology in the field of aeronautics, it is necessary to mention two or three things. About 80% of air accidents are due to human error, Not that the aircraft suddenly broke down or that there was an attack on the aircraft. it is, in most cases, the pilot who committed irresponsibility or who deliberately crashed the aircraft.

      From this perspective, the task of the aeronautical psychologist, as the selector of those who are capable of flying machines, is crucial. No one may be allowed to fly an airplane, whether he has received the necessary training or has passed the medical examination. Using an airplane is a very stressful problem and that, in case the pilot already has problems in his personal sphere, this can have terrible consequences.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Infocop. (2015). Assessment of the mental health of on-board staff – Interview with Adela González Marín, President of the AEPA. Spain: infocop.es. Retrieved from http://www.infocop.es/view_article.asp?id=5599
      • Mora-Rodríguez, L. (nd) The paradox of psychological recognition of crews and controllers. Spain: hispaviación.es. Retrieved from http://www.hispaviacion.es/la-paradoja-en-el-reconocimiento-psicologico-de-tripulaciones-aereas-y-controladores/

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