Members of Congress Tell FAA to Change Rules Regarding Pilot Mental Health

The legislators emphasized the need to address the stigma surrounding mental healthcare for pilots and air traffic controllers.

45 congressional members signed a letter asking the FAA to update its approach to mental healthcare for aviation professionals. [Pixabay]

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker expressing concern over the agency’s “approach to ensuring aviation professionals can obtain mental healthcare in a timely and efficient manner.”

The letter calls on the FAA to develop and implement policies, protocols, and screening methods that allow professionals, such as pilots and air traffic controllers, to seek care without the “fear that medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment, could potentially prolong their return to work, or even prevent them from pursuing their aviation careers.” Led by subcommittee on aviation chairman Garret Graves (R-La.) and ranking member Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a total of 45 congressional members signed the bipartisan letter.

“The agency’s backlog of decisions and reviews for aviation professionals that have sought mental healthcare persists and continues to strain the agency’s resources,” the legislators wrote in the letter. “Long medical clearance wait times are not only severely disruptive to an individual’s career but may also be a contributing factor discouraging other aviation professionals from self-disclosing mental health conditions. Such issues have led to distrust, frustration, and uncertainty between the agency and the aviation community and present formidable challenges to the future of United States aviation.”

The letter noted that FAA reauthorization legislation the House passed in July would require the agency to establish an Aeromedical Innovation and Modernization Working Group. That group would be tasked with improving the agency’s aeromedical decision-making and aligning it with current medical practices.

The FAA announced in November—following an incident where an off-duty airline pilot traveling via the flight deck jumpseat attempted to cut the fuel to both engines of an E175 in flight—that it would be appointing an aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) to “provide recommendations on breaking down the barriers that prevent pilots from reporting mental health issues to the agency.” The ARC is due to present its findings in March. While the representatives’ letter praised the agency for forming the committee, it emphasized the need for “concrete and actionable solutions.”

“We urge the FAA to take decisive actions to reduce the stigma around mental healthcare in aviation, make meaningful changes to remove barriers without jeopardizing safety standards, reduce aeromedical decision wait times, and ultimately strengthen trust with our aviation workforce,” the letter read.

The complete letter can be found here.

Kate O’Connor is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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