FAA Seeks Improved Pilot Mental Health Evaluations

After last year’s Germanwings tragedy in France, voluntary reporting of pilot mental health issues is being urged.

Germanwings Airbus A320
The intentional crash of a Germanwings Airbus A320 highlighted the need to improve pilot mental health evaluations.Aleem Yousaf/Creative Commons

An Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) composed of both aviation and medical experts, working in conjunction with commercial airlines and pilots’ unions, will strive to create a holistic approach to improving pilot mental health evaluations, in part by encouraging voluntary reporting of pilot mental health issues.

“While some conditions automatically disqualify someone from flying, many pilots have treatable conditions,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We need to do more to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness in the aviation industry so pilots are more likely to self-report, get treated and return to work.”

Several U.S. airlines already have reporting and monitoring programs that provide a path for pilots to report their condition, be treated and return to the cockpit once the FAA has determined it’s safe to do so.

The ARC developed a number of recommendations to the industry about pilot medical fitness to start the ball rolling.

In January, the FAA began enhanced training for Aviation Medical Examiners to foster their ability to identify warning signs, and airlines and unions plan to expand the use of pilot assistance programs integrated into airline safety management systems.

The agency and the airlines will also develop programs to increase awareness and reduce the stigma around mental health issues, such as convincing the Aerospace Medical Association to consider addressing professional reporting responsibilities on a national basis.

The ARC did not, however, recommend routine psychological testing because there was no convincing evidence it would improve safety. In September 2015, the Aerospace Medical Association said in-depth psychological testing of pilots as part of routine periodic care is neither productive nor cost effective.

Mental health in aviation is receiving additional scrutiny after a disturbed Germanwings Airbus A320 copilot intentionally crashed in the French Alps in March 2015, killing all 150 people on board.