The FAA's mental health committee is a long overdue step to help pilots overcome the many of the issues making their jobs difficult.
The Federal Aviation Administration said on Thursday it is naming a pilot mental health committee to provide recommendations to address barriers preventing pilots from reporting mental health issues.
The issue has taken on new urgency since an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot last month was charged with trying to disable the engines of a jet in flight and told police afterward he was suffering a nervous breakdown.
“Mental health care has made great strides in recent years, and we want to make sure the FAA is considering those advances when we evaluate the health of pilots,” said FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker.
The FAA said it would also work to address uncompleted recommendations from a July inspector general’s office report on pilot mental health, which found the FAA’s “ability to mitigate safety risks is limited by pilots’ reluctance to disclose mental health conditions.”
National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy said Thursday the board is planning to hold forums on Dec. 6 pilot mental health. She said the FAA oversight of pilot mental health is in need of significant reform.
“The current system is broken and has been for a really long time,” Homendy told reporters, saying pilots are fearful “they could lose their job if you mention you are going to talk therapy.”
Pilots must report certain mental health conditions to aviation medical examiners, who determine fitness to fly.
Homendy said “we don’t want to create an unsafe system clearly but mental health is dynamic” and there are ways of dealing with mental health challenges. “It’s not leaving people wondering if they are going to get to fly,” Homendy said.
Air Lines Pilots Association President Jason Ambrosi told Reuters “we need to just destigmatize mental health for pilots… We need to make people understand it is OK for talk to someone.”
He praised the FAA action to bring a wide variety of experts together including pilots, mental health professionals and regulators “to say where do we need to go.”
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Mark Porter and Marguerita Choy)
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Photo credit: An Alaska Airlines pilot was charged with trying to disable the engines of a jet in flight. He told police afterward he was suffering a nervous breakdown. Reuters