In 2015, a Germanwings pilot deliberately crashed a plane in the French Alps, killing himself and the 149 others on board. The best course to prevent catastrophes like the Germanwings crash is to minimize the stigma around mental illness and encourage pilots to get help, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) advisory panel said.
Investigators subsequently found that the pilot had a history of depression and suicidal tendencies.
‘There is 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.’
"There may be misperceptions that all mental illness is career-ending," the FAA report said. "While some forms of mental illness such as bipolar disorder and psychosis are indeed career-killers as far as flying planes, 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."
Key recommendations include boosting the psychological training of aviation medical examiners, FAA-licensed physicians who examine airline pilots every six months or 12 months, depending on the pilots' age, and are required to be told by pilots of any medications or visits to medical professionals.
The panel said most aviation medical examiners have only a couple of weeks of training in psychology, a problem that could be addressed with booster courses to highlight how to identify warning signs.
Other steps include greater use of peer-to-peer support programs that would encourage self-reporting, greater mental health literacy programs within airlines and more pilot support programs.
FAA officials said they discarded an idea to institute regular psychological testing of airline pilots because they found 'no convincing data' it was successful, in part because such an exam is only valuable if it coincides with a period in which the pilot is troubled.