The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is creating a committee to specifically address any barriers that could prevent pilots from reporting mental health issues.
In the coming weeks, the FAA said it will appoint a panel of medical experts as well as aviation and labor representatives for its Pilot Mental Health Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC). The committee will be responsible for providing information, advice and recommendations to the FAA on helping pilots report mental health issues.
The move comes shortly after the off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot charged with attempted murder admitted to law enforcement that he was having a “nervous breakdown” when he allegedly tried to shut down a plane’s engine mid-flight.
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Alaska Airlines Capt. Joseph Emerson also admitted to investigators that he had become depressed six months prior to the incident.
Under FAA regulations, pilots are required to undergo a medical exam with an aviation medical examiner, who is trained to determine the pilot’s mental health and fitness to fly, every six months to five years, depending on their age and the type of flying.
During this time, pilots must report certain mental health conditions to their aviation medical examiners, the FAA said.
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The FAA said that the committee will build on prior work that the agency has been doing, such as increasing mental health training for medical examiners, supporting industry-wide research and clinical studies on pilot mental health, and hiring additional mental health professionals to expand in-house expertise and to decrease wait times for return-to-fly decisions.
The FAA wrote on its website that the agency “encourages pilots to seek help if they have a mental health condition since most, if treated, do not disqualify a pilot from flying.”
The FAA said that only 0.1% of medical certificate applicants who disclose health issues are denied.