Why did the first officer on Air India IX-812 fail to take over the controls from the captain after asking for a go-around 3 times? While multiple factors led to the accident, the crew interaction and personalities definitely played their part as well. I will get back to this later.

Most of my days on the job are characterised by good crew interaction where synergy seems to flourish in the cockpit, but some days are just more of a struggle to get through.

 This leads to the question: Do different personalities in the cockpit impair our performance?

• do first officers at times tailor their behaviour to meet the captain’s expectations?

• do some captains feel too challenged by the first officer’s behaviour?

• can different personalities disrupt the synergy in the crew interaction?

 From the psychological point of view, there are different opinions on the matter of whether we actually can be put in specific boxes of personalities. There seems, however, to be a consensus that we all have five personality traits in common.

 A personality trait is a habitual pattern of behaviour, thoughts, and emotions.

We possess all five traits, but they vary in degree from person to person. They are relatively stable throughout our lives and are valid across gender, culture etc. Based on the trait theory from psychology, these are known as The Big Five:

Openness: Imagination, insight, adventurousness, creativity, openness to new things. People low on this trait are often more traditional, dislike change and resist new things.

Conscientiousness: Organized and mindful of details, with good impulse control and goal-directed behaviour, well-prepared. People who dislike structure and schedules usually score low on this trait.

Extraversion: Excitement, socialising, talkativeness, self-expression. A person with a low score prefer solitude, and feel exhausted by socialising.

Agreeableness: Trustworthiness, altruism, kindness, affection. Those low on this trait tend to be more competitive and even manipulative.

Neuroticism: Sadness, moodiness, emotional instability. People with low scores are emotionally stable, deal well with stress, are relaxed and do not worry much.

 

Is there such a thing as a pilot personality?

According to a NASA research based on 93 commercial pilots from 2004 the pilot personality profile is: “An emotionally stable individual who is low in anxiety, vulnerability, hostility, impulsiveness and depression. This person also tends to be very conscientious; being high in deliberation, achievement, competence and dutifulness. He also tends to be trusting and straightforward. Finally, he is an active individual with a high level of assertiveness.”

This research is a bit dated, and based on 93 pilots it may not give us the full picture. Maybe this is how we would like it to be in order to meet the common expectation of a pilot rather than how he really is.

Though I do see sense in the NASA pilot personality, I have also flown with colleagues who were competitive, had mood swings, who strived to be the center of attention, and some who never said a word beyond the checklist, and who took little interest in others. So, are we actually able to put today´s commercial pilots into a specific box of personality? I have my doubts. I think commercial pilots today come in all colours and shapes.

 

Are there personality traits that impair the performance in the cockpit?

There exist, in my opinion, some of the invisible human mechanisms that influence how we perform. I have met first officers telling me how they would tailor their behaviour in order to keep the captain “happy”. I have also heard from captains how some first officers can challenge them to a point, where the crew interaction would end up being more of a struggle than a flow.