Pilot Personality: Decoding the Pilot Shortage

The photo displays a frontal view of an unmarked airplane nose against a cloudy sky. The photo accompanies a blog post about pilot personality, the pilot shortage, hiring the best talent for pilot jobs, and developing successful pilots.

A pilot shortage is currently affecting the aviation industry—and more open jobs are on the horizon. Within just two years, the pilot shortage could range from 35,000 to 50,000 open jobs.1 Within two decades, approximately 650,000 new pilots will be needed to fill global vacancies.2 Using pilot personality data in talent acquisition and talent development is an essential and impactful first step in overcoming the pilot shortage.

Causes of the Pilot Shortage

Pilot job openings and pilot job requirements are two of the primary causes of the looming pilot shortage. More than 60 percent of today’s US commercial pilots will face mandatory retirement within the next 20 years, creating significant pilot job openings.2 Others are leaving the aviation industry altogether because of disruptions related to economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. While domestic air travel matches pre-pandemic demand and global air travel is expected to catch up soon,2 air cargo demand has fallen sharply and may continue to drop.3

Furthermore, requirements to become a pilot are stringent. Commercial pilots for regional or national airlines typically need to hold a bachelor’s degree, earn four successive pilot licenses, meet physical and flight-hour requirements, and demonstrate prior experience.4 The time, cost, experience, and technical skill required to enter this field are considerable barriers to new pilots.

Regional airlines seem to be most heavily impacted at present. Eighty-three percent of regional airlines are experiencing talent recruitment challenges.1 This may be because national carriers tend to attract more pilot talent; regional airlines have reduced flights in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; and some pilots are exiting the industry early.

Not only can it be difficult to find pilot talent, but it can be exceptionally difficult to find quality pilot talent. Using personality assessments can help address the pilot shortage by identifying potential pilots who are likely to be successful, as well as current pilots who perform well or need development.

Pilot Personality Characteristics

With the world’s largest database of research into the relationship between personality and job performance, Hogan can predict performance for nearly any job—including that of a pilot. In such a high-stakes job, personality can mark the difference between safety and tragedy.

In brief, necessary pilot job tasks include identifying and categorizing information, making decisions, monitoring processes, ensuring compliance with standards, and operating aircraft vehicles and equipment.5 Pilot ability and competence in these work activities derives from personality tendencies enhanced by training.

Personality assessment data benefit organizations by lowering recruiting costs, preventing accidents, and improving retention, engagement, and productivity. More specifically, pilot personality data help aviation organizations identify, select, and develop safety-conscious pilots.

Assessing personality can ensure that both airlines and flight schools select and train the best pilots. Personality data could also help reduce or replace some unnecessarily restrictive pilot criteria, such as flight program entry requirements, bachelor’s degrees, or number of flight hours before licensure.6 Increased screening for flight students, for example, would ensure that limited training resources were allocated to pilots most likely to succeed and continue in the industry.

The Pilot Performance Profile

Hogan began developing the Pilot Performance Profile, a tool to predict pilot performance, in 2015. Using personality and performance data from a sample of more than 1,000 pilots from 13 airlines across the US, Europe, Middle East, and Asia, Hogan designed the profile to report on the core competencies of effective pilots. To ensure that the profile could aid in hiring, developing, and training pilots globally, Hogan aligned the profile with the International Civil Aviation Organization competency model.

The Pilot Performance Profile can help improve aviation safety, ensure effective pilot performance, and address the pilot shortage. Useful for both talent acquisition and talent development, the report features five recommendation levels based on an individual’s percentile scores across its seven competencies.

Hogan Pilot Performance Profile Competencies

The competencies in the Pilot Performance Profile are based on the Hogan Personality Inventory, which describes seven everyday personality characteristics, and the Hogan Development Survey, which describes 11 potential performance challenges, or derailers. Together, the results of these inventories provide insight into how a pilot is likely to perform at their best and the shortcomings that may arise during times of stress, pressure, or complacency.

These are the seven competencies of an successful pilot:

  • Following Procedure – applies knowledge of regulations and operating instructions to perform tasks in a reliable manner and avoid unnecessary risks
  • Communication – communicates clearly and listens actively to ensure mutual understanding with others
  • Leadership – provides direction, delivers and receives feedback, and drives crew performance to facilitate safety and manage conflict
  • Teamwork – facilitates an engaging and constructive team environment focused on accountability and mutual respect
  • Problem-Solving and Decision-Making – leverages available resources to evaluate problems, identify solutions, and execute a plan of action without compromising safety
  • Vigilance – maintains awareness of the aircraft, its environment, and people to recognize and address potential threats
  • Work Perseverance – demonstrates self-control and a thorough approach to overcome obstacles and complete operational tasks

How Hogan Helps: Case Studies

The two following case studies demonstrate how Hogan helped two airline companies. The first case study shows how personality assessment data can contribute to a safety culture, and the second shows how it can improve talent acquisition.

Improving the Climate of Safety

An airline company asked Hogan to help evaluate the safety climate for its pilots. The airline wanted to improve safety-related behavior in the workplace. We surveyed employees to evaluate pilots’ safety awareness and areas for improvement.

In the survey, pilots rated their company’s trust and morale high. This indicates that the airline does not tend to put others at risk or cut corners that compromise safety. However, the pilots also rated their company’s safety attitudes and culture of safety as low. This indicates the airline could improve safety by ensuring transparent communication, being strategic about hiring, and valuing safety over production.

Selecting High-Performing Pilots

An airline company asked Hogan to evaluate its selection process for pilot candidates. The airline faced a growing demand for service and sought to increase the number of flights on its schedule. We measured job performance among incumbent pilots using supervisor performance ratings. Then, we collected assessment data to provide the airline with a more targeted approach to select high-performing pilots.

The return on investment of the Pilot Performance Profile is significant. Pilots whose personality scores aligned with the profile were 3.8 times more likely to be rated as high performers compared to those with scores that did not align with the profile.

Our research shows that by using the Pilot Performance Profile, airlines can expect to see a 22 percent improvement in overall selection accuracy, selecting 11 percent more good hires and avoiding 11 percent more bad hires.

As concerning as the pilot shortage is, we know that pilot personality data can help. Personality assessment at any stage of the pilot job can save precious time and resources to get skilled, safety-conscious people into the pilot’s seat.

Want to learn more about the Pilot Performance Profile?


  1. Murray, G., & Green, J. (2021). After COVID-19, Aviation Faces a Pilot Shortage. Oliver Wyman. https://www.oliverwyman.com/our-expertise/insights/2021/mar/after-covid-19-aviation-faces-a-pilot-shortage.html
  2. Boeing. (2023). Pilot and Technician Outlook 2023-2042. Boeing. https://www.boeing.com/commercial/market/pilot-technician-outlook/
  3. Garland, M. (2023, November 6). ‘Overstaffed’ FedEx tells unhappy pilots they can join American Airlines. Supply Chain Dive. https://www.supplychaindive.com/news/fedex-express-pilots-overstaffed-american-psa-airlines-jobs/
  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2023). Occupational Outlook Handbook, Airline and Commercial Pilots. US Department of Labor. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/transportation-and-material-moving/airline-and-commercial-pilots.htm
  5. National Center for O*NET Development. (2023, October). 53-2011.00 – Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers. O*NET OnLine. https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/53-2011.00
  6. Bogaisky, J. (2023, April 10). The Pilot Shortage Is Playing Havoc with Air Travel. Here Are Some Remedies. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeremybogaisky/2023/04/10/the-pilot-shortage-is-playing-in-havoc-with-air-travel-here-are-some-remedies/?sh=5ad2029fcd2a