Karen Moore

Psychological Risk in Aviation: Selection, Training and On-The-Job Mental Health

Karen Moore, Managing Director, Symbiotics

Karen Moore is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist who has spent over 30 years designing and running assessment processes. Karen has had a lifelong interest in aviation, growing up with a pilot father. In 2017 she was able to pull the two interests together, joining Symbiotics as Managing Director and Principal Occupational Psychologist, with the remit of further developing their range of assessments for aviation, and other high risk industry, applications. She has previously been responsible for the development of psychology services within a number of sectors, particularly assessment processes for all levels of recruiting and internal promotion, from graduates to board level positions. Karen has a particular interest in ensuring that pilot mental health is appropriately monitored throughout their careers.

As a holder of the BPS certificate Specialist in Test Use: Occupational, Karen has a strong interest in the appropriate application of psychometrics in assessment and development and has explored the use of a variety of measures in different situations. Collaborating with an international test publisher, Karen was instrumental in creating the first International Conference on Emotional Intelligence, held in London in 2007 and subsequently around the world.

Psychological Risk in Aviation – Selection, Training and On-the-Job Mental Health

A growing issue facing the aviation sector is providing sufficient pilots to meet the burgeoning demand, with a key focus on the training pipeline. There is a need to ensure that the entrants to the pipeline have the right attributes not only to succeed in passing the training but also to establish themselves in their careers, and maintain their engagement thereafter. Part of this is down to their core personality traits, and part to their ongoing mental state.

Aircrew perform a role that demands maintenance of operational effectiveness in a situation of steady routine that always carries the potential of high-pressure immediate incidents. New training technologies increase the psychological stress on the individual through realism of scenarios encountered. How an individual will respond to these can be predicted through sophisticated psychological modelling, and the relevant attributes tested through a combination of personality and aptitude tests, but mental health is a state that can fluctuate on a daily or even hour-by-hour basis. Mental wellbeing is a topic that is now on the agenda for most organisations, and we see a preparedness to talk about what was once a taboo topic. 

Proposals to address mental health risk by assessing psychological traits at key career points – recruitment, employer change or command upgrade – will not achieve the objective of identifying crew who are at risk of breakdown episodes.

Symbiotics have preliminary results comparing the risk to mental wellbeing on eight key measures between individuals selected for resilience and those who have not undergone this selection process. We will consider two key areas – what personality traits to assess for to give the greatest resilience to the various stresses put on workers in the aviation sector; and how mental health can be effectively and economically measured to best support them with the pressure they will encounter.