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Mental Health of Pilots

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The fear of flying …random events

Security is something that commercial aviation takes very seriously. When a pilot took control of an aircraft and deliberately flew it into the ground it seemed that there was a vulnerability in the system that would be impossible to plug. For fearful flyers, it introduced something more than the statistical improbability of being in an accident because this threat was from the very people in whom we put our trust to maintain safety standards. For those of us in the industry, it was difficult to say what could be done about it.

When planes had been involved in accidents we could say that pilot training would be changed, maintenance schedules would be adapted, procedures would be improved. But when someone wants to take a deliberate action to threaten safety, what can you do? I was confident that the industry would address this issue.  Apart from having a procedure where no pilot was ever alone in the cockpit, which was an obvious fix, there were deeper issues to consider.

I have always avoided directing people to sources of information where people with a fear of flying might misinterpret the information. Usually, inside information about any subject needs a background in the subject to keep it in context. That’s where the press can be so damaging when they quote bits of so-called information.

Recently the authorities have produced guidelines to Airlines about the mental welfare of pilots. Here are some extracts of a comprehensive document.

“The operator shall enable, facilitate and ensure access to a support programme that will assist and support flight crew members in recognising, coping with, and overcoming any problem which might negatively affect their ability to safely exercise the privileges of their licence. Such access shall be made available to all flight crew members.”

I’m not going to list all the things that pilots and airlines have to do in this programme except to say that the support structure will be extensive and apply to pilots from the start of their careers onwards.

Company’s responsibilities  are:

The Board and Director of Flight Operations of the AOC holder must demonstrate and document commitment to the PSP and to the overall aim of providing support for pilots by promoting Just Culture principles and fair treatment. The success of a PSP will depend on support at the highest executive and Board level.

(AOC is Air Operators Certificate)

(PSP is pilot support program)

Most anxious flyers would think that a pilot with ‘problems’ might hide them because of the possible loss of licence and livelihood that might follow disclosure of poor mental health. The requirements are that:

Mitigation of Risk of Loss of Licence

All operators should provide, or ensure pilots have information about, loss of licence insurance schemes.

Policies to manage risks resulting from fear of loss of licence should be included in the operator’s Safety Management System (SMS) to minimise career jeopardy from ill-health.

Captain Keith


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