How Can Occupational Therapy Improve the Effectiveness of Airline Pilot Training?

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Mavin, Timothy J

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Hodge, Steven M

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Worldwide commercial aviation has been expanding rapidly. This expansion is set to continue with major aircraft manufactures like Boeing in 2018 forecasting an additional 790,000 new pilots will be required worldwide by 2036. This expansion is changing the dynamics of pilot training and the flow on effect of less experienced pilots entering airlines. This changing dynamic led to an Australian Senate enquiry into pilot standards in 2010. In 2018 the Australian Minister for Transport commissioned an expert panel of pilot training organisations and senior airline managers to investigate aviation. The panel stated the current expansion played a significant threat to the commercial aviation industry. Threats included the prohibitive costs for new students to become pilots, airlines poaching flight instructors and a reducing number of flight examiners (FE). The flight examiner is responsible for the assessment of pilots at all stages of their career. In early pilot training there is a significant focus on aviation knowledge (e.g. rules of the air and aerodynamics) and flying skills (e.g. landing, turning, navigation) referred to as technical skills. Accidents over the last thirty to forty years in commercial aviation demonstrated that large aircraft in multi-crew flights were also attributed to human factors such as communication, teamwork and decision making, referred to as non-technical skills (NTS). The assessment of technical skills has remained somewhat unchanged. However, non-technical skills are still evolving with research showing there remains issues centred on the separation of technical and non-technical skills, the constructs used, and the low inter-rater reliability in non-technical skills assessment. Nevertheless, experience by the researcher over the last five years as an Occupational Therapist (OT) working with airlines showed pilots with reoccurring performance issues, while initially signalled by a flight examiner as a technical and/or non-technical skills issue, could be better explained and remediated when categorised as issues associated with the postural, sensory, visual and/or cognitive systems. This master’s thesis explores airline pilot performance using fundamental tools and perspectives used by Occupational Therapists. This exploration is not for the purpose of pilot selection, but rather, an opportunity to provide airlines with greater layers of intervention when performance issues arise with pilots. Accordingly, the study aimed to:

  1. Identify a small number (four) of airline pilots previously assessed by a flight examiner demonstrating performances ranging from low to high.
  2. Conduct further standardised and non-standardised occupational therapy assessments.
  3. Determine if certain variables could impact on pilot performance. The study showed the poor performing pilot had issues across all four systems - postural, sensory, visual and cognitive systems. The average performing pilots had issues across three of the systems - sensory, visual and cognitive systems. The highest performing pilot had no major difficulties across any of the systems. Interestingly some tests showed a reversal of results, with the poor performing pilot testing higher on some sub-tests, while the highest performing pilot tested poorly. The study discusses the findings in relation to pilot assessment and remedial training.
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Thesis (Masters)

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Master of Education and Professional Studies Research (MEdProfStRes)


School Educ & Professional St

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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

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Flight Examiners

Occupational Therapy

Pilot Performance

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