Pilots suffering from depression are no more likely to crash a plane or make errors than other pilots -- as long as they are taking medication, an Australian study showed Friday.
Unlike in much of the world, Australian pilots are allowed to fly aircraft while on anti-depressant drugs.
A study presented at a conference of the World Psychiatric Association in Melbourne on Friday found no statistical difference between medicated and non-medicated pilots in terms of their safety record.
"There was virtually no difference in the number of incidents or accidents," said Kathy Griffiths, a mental health researcher from the Australian National University.
"But importantly, there was a tendency for more accidents in the period prior to pilots going on to anti-depressants, but not once they were on them."
The study used records of Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) from 1993 to 2004, and compared the 481 pilots who reported medication use with the same number of pilots who did not take medication.
Each group had a total of five accidents, defined as serious injury, death or major aircraft damage, during the period. The medicated pilots had 18 incidents of pilot error, while the other group had 15, a difference which was not statistically significant.
"This really confirms for the first time that the longstanding liberal policy of supervised anti-depressant use introduced by CASA to allow medicated pilots is a good one," said James Ross, a co-investigator and former aviation medical specialist with the aviation safety authority.
"But it does raise a lot of questions about what is happening in all these other countries, where presumably people secretly take medication unsupervised, or they just fly depressed, increasing their chance of incident."
About one percent of Australia's 60,000 pilots are on anti-depressants, compared with 4.5 percent of the general population.