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Study finds hundreds of pilots suffering from depression
15 December 2016

Study finds hundreds of pilots suffering from depression

A study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows hundreds of pilots are suffering from depression.

The study, pubished in  Environmental Health, found 233 (12.6%) of the 1848 responding airline pilots met criteria for likely depression. Of the 1430 pilots who reported working as an airline pilot in the last seven days at time of survey, 193 (13.5%) met these criteria. Seventy-five participants (4.1%) reported having thoughts of better being off dead or self-harm within the past two weeks.

A significant trend in proportions of depression was found at higher levels of use of sleep-aid medication and among those experiencing sexual harassment or verbal harassment.

The authors warn that the results have limited generalizability, but state that this study shows that there are a significant number of active pilots suffering from depressive symptoms. Future studies will evaluate additional predictors such as sleep and circadian rhythm disturbances.

The study was conducted in the wake of the accident of Germanwings flight 9525 which was caused by intentional actions by the aircraft’s first officer who was suffering from depression.

The authors made an international anonymous web-based survey, that was administered between April and December 2015. Pilots were recruited from unions, airline companies, and airports via convenience sampling. The objective of the study was to provide a more accurate description of mental health among commercial airline pilots underscoring symptoms related to depression using an anonymous survey to guard against fears of stigma and job discrimination. This study did not conduct clinical interviews of survey respondents to confirm diagnosis of depression, nor did it have access to medical records, according to the authors.

Survey: European pilots praise safety culture, concerns over fatigue

A survey among European pilots show a generally positive perception of safety culture, but pilots also voice concerns over fatigue.

The survey was conducted by The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Eurocontrol among  7,239 pilots from across European nations; approximately 14 per cent of Europe’s total commercial pilot population,

The results show among others that perceptions of safety culture are generally positive amongst pilots. A total of 82% felt SOPs were appropriate for supporting safe operations, and 81% did not feel they had to take risks that made them feel uncomfortable about safety.

The vast majority did not feel they had to take risks that made them feel uncomfortable about safety, and they indicated a high degree of confidence in their colleagues.

Concerns were voiced over fatigue.  Over half of respondents thought that pilots in their company are often tired at work. Just over 60% reported comfortable to complete a fatigue report

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Audit says FAA lacks risk-based oversight process for civil unmanned aircraft systems

Typical small drone with camera (photo: Don McCullough / CC:by)

Typical small drone with camera (photo: Don McCullough / CC:by)

The U.S. Office of Inspector General (OIG) concluded, following an audit, that the FAA does not verify that drone operators actually meet or understand the conditions and limitations of their exemptions either before or after the application is approved.
The growing demand for civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operations presented new safety oversight challenges for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), causing the OIG to initiate an audit in August 2015.
Using an authority granted by Congress, FAA has approved over 5,500 commercial UAS to operate by exempting them from regulatory requirements, and recently issued a final rule governing operations of small UAS.
The OIG found that FAA streamlined its process in 2015 for exempting civil UAS from regulatory requirements in response to increasing requests for exemptions and concerns over lengthy approval times. However, FAA’s process does not verify that operators actually meet or understand the conditions and limitations of their exemptions either before or after the application is approved. Furthermore, while FAA has taken some steps to advance UAS technology, the Agency has not established a risk-based safety oversight process for civil UAS operations—a key tool for focusing resources on a range of emerging risks. Despite an increase in reported UAS events, FAA lacks a robust data reporting and tracking system for UAS activity. As a result, FAA is currently taking a reactive approach to UAS oversight.
FAA concurred with all six of recommendations:
  1. Establish specific milestones to update and maintain UAS guidance to keep pace with technological developments and incorporate inspector feedback.
  2. Develop comprehensive and updated training for safety inspectors on UAS technologies and Agency rules and guidance related to UAS oversight.
  3. Initiate a periodic process to perform inspections of commercial UAS operators based on operational factors (e.g., location, number of operations, and type of activity) to verify knowledge of and compliance with FAA requirements and to inform the development of a risk-based oversight plan.
  4. Design and implement a risk-based and prioritized oversight plan for UAS to help ensure safe operations of UAS.
  5. Develop and implement a process to coordinate existing disparate UAS databases within FAA to facilitate data mining and safety analysis.
  6. Implement a process to share UAS data with field oversight offices to assist inspectors in risk-based and proactive oversight of civil UAS operations.

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EASA publishes Annual Safety Review over 2015

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) published the Annual Safety Review 2016, covering a review of aviation safety in Europe for 2015. 

The only fatal accident with a Commercial Air Transport aeroplane involving an EASA member state operator in 2015 was the Germanwings accident on 24 March 2015. It also can be observed that there was a higher number of non‑fatal accidents involving EASA member state operators in 2015 than the 10-year average, with 24 compared to the average of 21.8 over the previous 10 years. At the same time, there was a 24% reduction in the number of serious incidents over the same period with a total of 58 serious incidents compared with the average of 75.8. In terms of fatalities, the single fatal accident resulted in 150 fatalities, which is higher than the 10 year average. There was also a slight increase in serious injuries with 11 compared with 9.2 over the previous 10 years.

Source: EASA

Source: EASA

U.S. commercial aviation community targets pilot mental fitness

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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FAA tests FBI drone detection system at New York-JFK Airport

The U.S. FAA and its government partners are expanding research on ways to detect “rogue” drones around airports that could pose a threat to aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its government, industry and academia partners have joined forces to evaluate drone detection technology at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York.
Beginning May 2, the FAA conducted evaluations at JFK to study the effectiveness of a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) UAS detection system in a commercial airport environment. Five different rotorcraft and fixed wing UAS participated in the evaluations, and about 40 separate tests took place.

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FAA to test drone sensor detection systems around airports

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported that it signed three companies in an effort do develop a system to detect illegal operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) flying too close to airports.

The FAA signed  Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRDAs) with Gryphon Sensors, Liteye Systems Inc. and Sensofusion.

The companies’ prototype drone sensor detection systems will be evaluated at airports selected by the FAA. The agency and its federal government partners – particularly the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – will work with the companies to study how effective their respective technologies are, while ensuring they do not interfere with the safety and security of normal airport operations.

The CRDAs with Gryphon, Liteye and Sensofusion expand upon collaborative efforts with industry to develop system standards to identify unauthorized UAS flights near airports, which could pose a hazard to manned aircraft. The agency has seen a steep increase in reports of small UAS close to airports over the last two years.

The FAA has also partnered with DHS and CACI International on similar research to explore how that company’s prototype detection technology may help detect UAS.

EASA task force to study risk of collision between drones and aircraft

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announced the creation of a task force to assess the risk of collision between drones and aircraft.

EASA will chair the task force which will include representatives of aircraft and engine manufacturers. The task force will consult the European member states and other relevant stakeholders as well as foreign authorities. At the end of July, it will publish its results and will organise a workshop with stakeholders to present and discuss its findings and recommendations

The task force will:

  • Review all relevant occurrences including the occurrences collected by the European Member States,
  • Analyse the existing studies on the subject of impact between drones and aircraft,
  • Study the vulnerabilities of aircraft (windshields, engines, and airframe) taking into account the different categories of aircraft (large aeroplanes, general aviation, and helicopters) and their associated design and operational requirements,
  • Consider the possibility to do further research and perform actual tests (for example on windshields).

A 2015 scientific impact analysis by Aero Kinetics Results showed that a drone strike to the windshield and engine ingestion of a commercial airliner would cause damage and economic losses, while a head-on rotorcraft drone strike would cause significant damage and be non-survivable.

Virginia Tech also studied drone strike effects, among others using a simulation of the effects of a drone being ingested in a turbofan engine:

ATSB: Two items of debris found on Mozambique coast ‘almost certainly’ belong to MH370

Both parts and the location on the aircraft

Both parts and the location on the aircraft

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) concluded that two items of debris found on the Mozambique coast were almost certainly from Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, the Boeing 777 aircraft, registered 9M-MRO that went missing on March 8, 2014.

On 27 December 2015 and 27 February 2016, two items of debris were independently found, approximately 220km apart, on the Mozambique coast. Both items were investigated by the ATSB to determine the origin.

The first part was initially identified from a number stencilled on the part (676EB), as a segment from a Boeing 777 flap track fairing (Fairing No. 7) from the right wing. All measurable dimensions, materials, construction and other identifiable features conformed to the applicable Boeing drawings for the identified fairing.

The 676EB stencil font and colour was not original from manufacture, but instead conformed to that developed and used by MAB during painting operations. The part had been repainted, which was consistent with MAB maintenance records for 9M-MRO.

The second part was primarily identified from images showing the materials, construction and “NO STEP” stencil, as a segment of a Boeing 777 RH horizontal stabilizer panel. All measurable dimensions, materials, construction and other identifiable features conformed to the Boeing drawings for the stabiliser panel.

The part was marked on the upper surface in black paint with “NO STEP”. The font and location of the stencil were not original from manufacture, however the stencilling was consistent with that developed and used by Malaysian Airlines.

A single fastener was retained in the part. The fastener head markings identified it as being correct for use on the stabiliser panel assembly. The markings also identified the fastener manufacturer. That manufacturer’s fasteners were not used in current production, but did match the fasteners used in assembly of the aircraft next in the production line (405) to 9M-MRO (404).

Ongoing work is being conducted with respect to the marine ecology identification as well as testing of material samples. The results from these tests will be provided to the Malaysian investigation team once complete.

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IATA publishes Safety Report 2015

Accident per million sectors

Accident per million sectors

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) published their  annual Safety Report, detailing the 2015 safety performance of the commercial airline industry.

The IATA analysis agrees with ASN’s 2015 review in that the accident rate continues its downward trend.  According to IATA:

  • The 2015 global jet accident rate was 0.32 hull losses per 1 million flights, which was the equivalent of one major accident for every 3.1 million flights. This was not as good as the rate of 0.27 achieved in 2014 but a 30% improvement compared to the previous five-year rate (2010-2014) of 0.46 hull loss accidents per million jet flights.
  • There were four accidents resulting in passenger fatalities in 2015, all of which involved turboprop aircraft, with 136 fatalities. This compares with an average of 17.6 fatal accidents and 504 fatalities per year in the previous five-year period (2010-2014).
  • The 2015 jet hull loss rate for members of IATA was 0.22 (one accident for every 4.5 million flights), which outperformed the global rate by 31% and which was in line with the five-year rate (2010-2014) of 0.21 per million flights but above the 0.12 hull loss rate achieved in 2014.
  • The loss of Germanwings 9525 (pilot suicide) and Metrojet 9268 (suspected terrorism) that resulted in the deaths of 374 passengers and crew are tragedies that occurred in 2015. They are not, however, included in the accident statistics as they are classified as deliberate acts of unlawful interference.

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