A new study has shown that just two questions can predict how well a pilot will handle an emergency.

After being informed that a simulated exercise would involve an engine failure occurring shortly after take-off (widely considered one of the most stressful situations a pilot can face) and their task would be to land the plane safely, 16 experienced commercial airline pilots were asked:

How demanding do you expect the task to be?

and

How able are you to cope with the demands of the task?

The pilots scored their answer to each question on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 6 (extremely).

The difference between the two answers provided a single measure of whether the pilots interpreted the forthcoming emergency as a challenge or a threat - basically whether they had confidence in their abilities compared to the perceived demands of the task.

This measure was found to accurately predict how well the pilots subsequently coped with the engine failure, as those who rated it as more of a threat (i.e. the demand outscored their coping ability) tended to perform worse than those who rated it more as a challenge (their coping ability outscored the demand).

These factors were true whether the pilots' performance was judged subjectively by a flight instructor or through objective measures of aircraft control, such as the speed and heading of the plane and the pilots' gaze.

In short, pilots confident in their own abilities to handle an engine failure, performed better in the situation.

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