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This case study summarises an assignment which was carried out to improve the recruitment and selection process for ab initio air traffic controllers. A cost-benefit analysis approach was taken.

Success Criteria
The successful recruitment and selection of the right number of high quality ab initio air traffic controllers is essential to ensure that flight delays caused by Air Traffic Control restrictions are maintained at an acceptable level. Its success can be measured by:

  • the proportion of people entering training who emerge with a licence to operate, and
  • the difference between the demand and supply of newly licensed controllers.

The cost of recruiting, selecting and training a controller is high. A significant part of the cost arises from selecting people who subsequently fail.

The success rate from a training course is unpredictable and will result in a mismatch between supply and demand. A shortfall in supply leads to insufficient airspace capacity being provided at peak times. Airlines will suffer the cost of delays and re-routings as a consequence.

Improvement may be desirable, but which of the many options for changing the recruitment, and selection process should be chosen? Three or more years may elapse between recruitment and the award of an operating license, so any effect on the success rate in training will not become apparent for several years. Changes cannot be made to the any part of the process with any confidence in a beneficial outcome.

Icon has developed an approach to estimate benefits before changes are made to the process. This is done by identifying the variables in the process which affect its outcome and modelling the relationship between these variables at each stage of recruitment and selection. In this way, the economic impact of introducing new stages and modifying or removing existing stages can be measured. An important part of the analysis is to examine and quantify two major errors that occur in selection. These are:

  • selecting people who will later fail (false positives), and
  • rejecting people who would have succeeded (false negatives).

Improvements to the recruitment and selection process can be identified which will enable an organisation to reduce cost and produce more qualified controllers.

Example: A typical multi-stage process
From every 100 applications received there may be just one person who is awarded a licence. Of the 99 who do not qualify, there may be 10 to 15 people who have the ability to succeed but are rejected by a less than perfect selection process. In training, the failure rate may be as high as 40%.

The selection process can be reconfigured to change these ratios, but any reconfiguration will affect the cost of selection, the cost of training, and the cost of controller shortages. An optimum configuration of selection procedures will minimise the total cost.


Our approach is to identify all the fixed and variable costs involved in both filling a vacancy for a licensed controller and not filling it, thereby creating a shortage. A model of the process is then used to explore how the total cost can be moved towards its minimum value.


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