What is Aviation Psychology?
Aviation psychology is a highly specific, and little known field of psychology. Workers in this occupational area use their knowledge of human behavior to participate in a number of duties for airlines, airports, and government agencies. Aviation psychologists may be involved in screening applicants for flight school or helping reconstruct events that occurred before an aviation accident. Some aviation psychologists will provide counseling services in times of crisis or great stress while others will be involved in devising training programs for airline personnel. It is a field of work that has excellent income potential, outpacing the average income for other subfields of psychology.
There is an expectation for continued growth of aviation psychology as the popularity of flying keeps pressure on pilots, flight crews, and airline staff to provide customers with a safe and pleasant flying experience.
What Does an Aviation Psychologist Do?
Although aviation psychology is a specific domain within the practice of psychology, it is a highly varied field. Individuals trained as aviation psychologists may work behind the scenes with engineers to assist with the design of the flight deck and cabin areas of an aircraft. Their role would be to ensure that seats, dials, lights, and other components in the aircraft are user-friendly and that the flight crew and passengers can interact with the airplane’s mechanisms in an efficient and safe manner.
Psychologists in this field also work with airlines and the military to select pilots. They utilize their expertise in human behavior to evaluate potential pilots for psychological health by screening for various mental health issues like depression, bipolar disorder, different anxiety disorders, and personality disorders. Aviation psychologists will additionally devise training programs for pilots, flight attendants, and other personnel as well, including maintenance crews and air traffic controllers. The training programs for flight crews specifically focus on promoting strategies to enhance attention, perception, memory, and communication, as well as maintaining calm in stressful situations.
Because of the high-stress nature of jobs in the aviation industry, aviation psychologists typically provide mental health and wellness services to members of the flight crew and various airline or airport employees on the ground. These services revolve around maintaining a healthy diet, a good balance between work and leisure, and strategies for managing jet lag. Wellness programs that seek to reduce stress are usually designed and implemented by aviation psychologists as well. In this capacity, an aviation psychologist’s focus is less on formal counseling techniques and more on providing guidance and coaching for making decisions that improve the person’s on-the-job performance and overall well-being.
In the event of an accident, aviation psychologists will provide emergency mental health services to survivors and their families. These services can range from crisis intervention in the immediate aftermath of an accident, to long-term counseling for flight crew that survive the accident and airline employees that are impacted by the event. Aviation psychologists will often assist in the investigation process as well, offering insight into the behavior and mental state of pilots and co-pilots both in the cockpit prior to the accident, as well as their behavior in their daily lives in the weeks and months prior to the accident.
Experienced aviation psychologists, particularly those with advanced degrees, can work in administrative or policy-making positions with airlines or government agencies such as the National Transportation Safety Board. Aviation psychologists at this level may oversee operations to ensure their employer is compliant with safety regulations, or help create a culture of safety consciousness among flight crews, maintenance crews, and other airline stakeholders.
What is the Job Outlook for Aviation Psychologists?
Overall, the field of psychology is predicted to grow 19% from 2014 to 2024. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide job numbers for aviation psychology, it can be assumed that aviation psychology is a field that will continue to see stable growth and ample opportunities for jobs. The stressors for flight crews and ground personnel will not be diminished, even as airliners become more and more technologically advanced. In fact, job-related stress may well increase as the number of people flying in the United States and worldwide continues to increase, thus maintaining a need for aviation psychologists.
What is the Salary for an Aviation Psychologist?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specifically offer salary information for aviation psychologists. However, the BLS lists the median annual wage for all psychologists as being $93,050 (May 2015). Information for industrial-organizational psychology, which is among the most closely related fields to aviation psychology, is available as well. That data indicates that aviation psychology is among the most lucrative areas of psychology from a salary perspective, with a median salary of $92,320 per year, in May 2015. Of course, many factors will impact one’s salary, including education, experience, the location of employment and the size of the airline or company that offers the employment.
What are the Education Requirements to Become an Aviation Psychologist?
To enter the field of aviation psychology one must have at least a bachelor’s degree. Some colleges and universities offer specialized programs in aviation psychology, while others offer programs that focus on human factors psychology. However, most colleges and universities offer typical undergraduate degree programs that concentrate on helping students develop an understanding of human behavior. Students who have a bachelor’s degree in psychology without an emphasis in aviation may be required by an employer to take additional coursework that pertains to aviation, engineering, and other related disciplines after completion of their four-year degree. Undergraduate level degrees may prepare students for entry-level job positions.
The educational requirements for an aviation psychologist will vary widely based upon the specific job duties. Aviation psychologists that offer counseling services will likely be required to have a doctoral degree in psychology, which typically takes 5-8 years. State licensure is also likely to be required for those that offer counseling services and independent practice, depending upon the state in which the individual works.
In most states, licensure is required to use the title “psychologist”. Requirements for licensure generally include an APA accredited doctoral degree in psychology, supervised experience under a licensed psychologist, and passing licensure examination (some states may have additional requirements).
Master’s degrees may be necessary for aviation psychologists that work primarily in the design or engineering areas of aviation as well. These programs would include studies in psychology and the use of psychological principles for developing aviation technologies that are intuitive and easy to use.
In absence of specialized programs in aviation psychology, and depending on the future career goals, many individuals often opt for a degree in cognitive psychology, clinical psychology, industrial psychology, counseling psychology, or social psychology.
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