Following a March 27, 2012, incident in which a pilot of a major commercial airline experienced a serious disturbance in his mental health, the Aerospace Medical Association formed an Ad Hoc Working Group on Pilot Mental Health. The working group met several times and analyzed current medical standards for evaluating pilot mental health. The result of the working group was a letter sent to the FAA and other organizations worldwide interested in medical standards. The Committee found that it is neither productive nor cost effective to perform extensive psychiatric evaluations as part of the routine pilot aeromedical assessment. However it did recommend greater attention be given to mental health issues by aeromedical examiners, especially to the more common and detectable mental health conditions and life stressors that can affect pilots and fl ight performance. They encouraged this through increased education and global recognition of the importance of mental health in aviation safety.
AsMA Responses Related to March 24, 2015 Germanwings Airbus 320 Crash (Provided by Dr. Philip J. Scarpa, Jr., AsMA President)
Are there any updates on the work being done by the association in this area?
Is the aviation community / airlines doing enough to tackle the issue of pilots' mental health?
- There have been no changes or additions to the recommendations in pilot mental health made by our organization since 2013. The message was that although serious and sudden psychological conditions are often difficult to screen for and do not justify routine testing, less serious and more symptomatic conditions like depression, anxiety, mania, alcohol and drug abuse do show signs and are more likely to be diagnosed and so worth screening for. Use of effective, minimally intrusive, easy-to-use tests that can be used by aeromedical examiners during a pilot's existing periodic aeromedical exam. Education and reporting of mental health conditions can also be increased.
In the wake of the crash, some states are reviewing their rules to require at least two people to be in the cockpit at any one time, which is the current practice by all US carriers. Is this a move in the right direction?
- As I mentioned above, there is room for improvement in the airline industry for mental health screening in pilots. Most airlines do not perform any periodic mental health assessments after an initial screening during the hiring process. In addition to screening though, education of the pilots, their families and others in the aviation community on what to look for in mental wellness and how to report it are also important measures the airlines can take. Also, providing "Safe Zones" for pilots to report any issues is important to encourage reporting. These safe zones, such as one's pilot's union, provide a sense of protection from retribution and social stigma for the pilot and have been very successful in receiving reports and providing intervention that otherwise would have been missed.
What else can states / airlines do in this area to ensure the safety and security of flight?
- I personally think that requiring at least two persons in the cockpit at anytime during the flight should be the standard. The US and Canadian airlines require this but Europe does not, although I think Europe will probably be reconsidering that in the near future.
- As I mentioned above, without too much additional effort, there is room for greater screening and awareness of mental health issues in pilots, of the conditions that can be predicted and prevented. Pilots are humans too, and can be subject to the same conditions as everyone else. Asking how they are doing mentally and emotionally and providing ways to help them are important to their success and to aviation safety.
European Society of Aerospace Medicine (ESAM) - European Association for Aviation Psychology (EAAP) - European Cockpit Association (ECA) Endorse AsMA Pilot Mental Health Recommendations (11/30/2015)