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U.S. commercial aviation community targets pilot mental fitness
17 June 2016

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is working with commercial airlines and pilots’ unions to improve mental health evaluations, and encourage voluntary reporting of pilot mental health issues.

The Pilot Fitness Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), comprised of aviation and medical experts, was established in May 2015 to provide recommendations about pilot medical fitness in the wake of the the Malaysia Flight 370 and Germanwings Flight 9525 tragedies.

The FAA, airlines and pilots’ unions considered the ARC’s recommendations and agreed to these actions:

  • In January 2016, the FAA began enhanced training for Aviation Medical Examiners so they can increase their knowledge on mental health and enhance their ability to identify warning signs.
  • Airlines and unions will expand the use of pilot assistance programs. The FAA will support the development of these programs over the next year. These programs will be incorporated in the airline’s Safety Management Systems for identifying risk.
  • The FAA will work with airlines over the next year as they develop programs to reduce the stigma around mental health issues by increasing awareness and promoting resources to help resolve mental health problems.
  • The FAA will issue guidance to airlines to promote best practices about pilot support programs for mental health issues.
  • The FAA will ask the Aerospace Medical Association to consider addressing the issue of professional reporting responsibilities on a national basis and to present a resolution to the American Medical Association. Reporting requirements currently vary by state and by licensing and specialty boards.

The ARC’s experts did not recommend routine psychological testing because there was no convincing evidence that it would improve safety, which the Aerospace Medical Association also concluded in a letter to Administrator Huerta in September 2015, stating that in-depth psychological testing of pilots as part of routine periodic care is neither productive nor cost effective. Instead, the FAA and the aviation community is embracing a holistic approach that includes education, outreach, training, and encourages reporting and treatment of mental health issues. The FAA will reconvene the ARC’s medical working group in 2016 to determine if specific U.S. psychological research projects should be sponsored to better understand general pilot mental health. The FAA will also collaborate with the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority which is studying the psychological testing of pilots who underwent personality testing several decades ago, to include medical and psychiatric outcomes, as well as exploring early recognition of personality and behavioral issues that could pose issues in the future for pilots.

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