Daniel Lang

Date of Award


Document Type

Independent Study

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




There are 15 major airlines and 15 different types of initial pilot selection processes. Airlines generally publish low minimum application requirements in order to comply with non discrimination laws in the United States. However, most applicants will have far exceeded these minimums in order to be competitive. As airlines become more selective, their applicant pool becomes smaller resulting in a more homogenous group. Since all major airlines draw from this relatively small homogenous group, why does every airline have a different selection process? Most major airlines administer written and or computer tests, simulator evaluations, psychological tests, and aeronautical knowledge tests. Most, if not all, legacy airlines administer simulator evaluations during initial screening while none of the low cost airlines use them. However, no low cost airlines use simulator evaluations.

This study examined the differences in pilot selection between the low cost airline Jet Blue and the legacy major airline Continental. The results indicate that neither carrier has attempted to validate their selection process. Although various tests or phases might select pilots with desired traits neither airline can show if they are actually selection their desired pilot. Both airlines would be much better served with a structured type selection processes that is founded on proven research and statistical analysis. When asked about the hiring process at major airlines, Kit Darby, the owner of a career counseling and information service company for commercial pilots (Air Inc.), said the hiring process is “consistently inconsistent “ (Damos, 2003).

JetBlue and Continental Airlines were chosen because they have separated themselves from other airlines by consistently achieving multiple awards for excellent customer service and desirable corporate cultures. Even though both airlines focus on selecting applicants with extensive experience and superior customer service skills, essentially trying to hire the same type of pilot, they both take significantly different approaches in their pilot selection process.

The results of this study will enable future major airline pilot applicants to evaluate an airline’s selection process. A thorough evaluation of airlines hiring practices will allow pilots to discover if they are the best fit for that airline and how to go about positioning themselves for future hiring opportunities. This study will also provide airlines with potential suggestions for improving their selection process.