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Is Your Co-Pilot Depressed?

by Sarina Houston 2. April 2015 00:20
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Photo: NIMH

In light of the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash in which one of the pilots locked the other out of the cockpit and then intentionally flew an Airbus A320 into a mountain in the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board, the issue of mental health in pilots has resurfaced.

After the captain of the aircraft got up to use the restroom mid-flight, 27-year-old co-pilot Andrews Lubitz locked him out and refused to allow him back in. Then he reportedly programmed the autopilot to descend from an altitude of 38,000 feet down to 100 feet with the intention of crashing into the side of a mountain along the way.

Investigators reportedly found an anti-depressant medication in the apartment of Lubitz, along with other evidence that suggested the Germanwings first offficer was seeing a doctor for depression.

Lubitz had not informed the airline of this most recent bout with depression, but people who knew him have come forward to say that he was suicidal at one point. And, according to an ex-girlfriend, he had a temper. But how could anyone have known that this person could commit such a heinous act?

CNN reported that Lubitz passed an aviation medical exam in 2014, which a Lufthansa official said didn't test mental health. But even if the exam did covered mental health issues in depth, what pilot would admit to depression or mood disorders knowing that he'd lose his job? For many pilots, flying is a life-long dream - a career that they've worked hard for - and to know that depression, suicidal thoughts or a more severe mood disorder would essentially disable them from flying professionally and perhaps even as a hobby, would be a tough pill to swallow. Because they'd lose their jobs, careers, and for many, their livelihood, most pilots who have experienced depression or other symptoms of a mood disorder or mental health issue, will, sadly, fail to report them.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that mental illness is common in the United States. In 2012, according to the NIMH website, about 18.6 percent of adults in the United States had some form of mental illness (not including those related to substance abuse.) Luckily for the traveling public, most of them are not suicidal.

We can probably assume that this statistic carries over to the pilot career profession, although statistics pertaining to pilots with a mental illness won't reflect this same trend due to the nature of the job. We rely on self-reporting procedures, and when a pilot's career is on the line, chances are good that he or she just won't report it.

Eighteen percent of adults in the United States have some sort of diagnosed mental illness. This could be anything from minor depression or social anxiety to bipolar disorder or suicidal behavior. To be more specific, the NIMH says that a Serious Mental Illness (SMI) occurs in about four percent of all adults. A serious mental illness is defined as one that interferes with normal life activities and results in "serious functional impairment."

So, according to these numbers, somewhere between four and 18 percent of people in general have some sort of mental illness. This means that if you're a pilot, up to one out of six pilots you fly with could be suffering from some sort of mental illness. Luckily, very few of these people are also suicidal, and flights continue to operate safely every day.

Germanwings Flight 9525 was, perhaps, a case that could have been prevented. But what's the fix for depression in pilots and the failure to self-report? Better mental health screening for pilots? Better working conditions? A mandate for two pilots in the cockpit at all times? (Most or all U.S. airlines already employ a strategy of this kind, by the way.) Take the human element out of the cockpit altogether?

While we need to do all we can to prevent another tragedy like this from occurring, how far will we go, or how far should we go, to save ourselves from… ourselves? "Better" mental health screening could lead to even less reporting by pilots. Two pilots in the cockpit will help, unless the second physically overtakes the first one. And can we really take the human element out of the equation altogether? Even RPAs - remotely piloted airplanes - are flown by humans on the ground. If one of these pilots were to be suicidal, they could still fly the airplane into a mountain.

Is there a solution to making certain that a suicide mission like Germanwings 9525 doesn't happen again? Or is there a certain element of risk - a low probability/high consequence risk like an aircraft suicide mission- that we must accept as human beings functioning in a world with other human beings? Or is there a happy medium? What are your thoughts?

Pilots Bill of Rights 2: Medical Exemptions, Due Process & NOTAMs

by Sarina Houston 2. March 2015 22:42
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Photo © Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr

In a move that is being applauded by the general aviation community, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) last week introduced two new GA-friendly bills. The new laws– the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act and the Pilots Bill of Rights 2 (PBOR-2) - could have a significant impact on general aviation operations if they move through congress.

Sen. Inhofe successfully led the first Pilot’s Bill of Rights through Congress in 2012. PBOR-2 expands upon the pilot protections offered by the initial PBOR.

"The first Pilot’s Bill of Rights was a victory for the aviation community and made possible by the support of pilots and industry leaders across the nation,” Inhofe said. “Since being signed into law, more issues facing the general aviation (GA) community have surfaced. The Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 addresses these concerns and builds on the success of my previous legislation.”

Twelve sponsors, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), House General Aviation Caucus co-chair Sam Graves (R-Mo.), and a variety of industry stakeholders, such as AOPA, EAA, and GAMA, supported Sen. Inhofe’s Pilot Bill of Rights.

Mark Barker, President of AOPA, released this statement: “The introduction of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 is great news for the general aviation community and we are grateful to Sen. Inhofe for putting forward this legislation that would do so much to help grow and support general aviation activity. Pilots have already waited too long for medical reform, so we’re particularly pleased to see it included in this important measure. We will actively work with Congress to build support for this legislation that is so vital to the future of GA and the 1.1 million jobs that depend on it.”

The General Aviation Pilot Protection Act was first introduced in 2013. The 2015 version intends to expand the medical exemption requirement for pilots, and the PBOR-2 addresses the same medical exemption requirements, along with a handful of other issues.

According to Sen. Inhofe’s website, highlights of the new bill will include the following:

  • Medical Certificate Exemption:
    Allows more pilots to operate without obtaining an aviation medical certificate. Under the new law, private pilots would be able to fly VFR or IFR in aircraft under 6,000 pounds, below 14,000 feet MSL, and under 250 knots.
  • Due Process:
    PBOR-2 will maintain the rights set forth in the first PBOR from 2012, and will extend those rights to all FAA certificate holders instead of just pilots. This means that maintainers, dispatchers and other certificate holders will also be granted due process rights along with the right to appeal an FAA decision through a merit-based trial in Federal Court.
  • Violation Transparency:
    The new bill will require the FAA to notify pilots of any pending enforcement action, as well as provide specific documentation.
  • Flight Data Accessibility:
    Under the new bill, pilots will be able to access data from contractors, including flight service stations, contract controllers and controller training programs in order to defend themselves from enforcement action.
  • Protection for Volunteer Pilots:
    PBOR-2 will establish a Good Samaritan Law to protect volunteer pilots from liability.
  • Protection for individuals performing federal tasks:
    PBOR-2 will establish liability protections for individuals performing federal tasks, such as designated examiners, medical examiners and airworthiness inspectors.
  • NOTAMs:
    PBOR-2 will require the FAA to develop a better NOTAM (Notice to Airman) system, and maintains that the FAA will not be allowed to bring about enforcement action on pilots until they complete the NOTAM Improvement Program

The FAA has 180 days to weigh in on the regulations. If the organization doesn’t respond, the bills will automatically become laws.

Drug Impairment Not Just an Aviation or Medical Certification Issue

by GlobalAir.com 10. September 2014 16:06
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EAA AVIATION CENTER, OSHKOSH, Wisconsin – (September 10, 2014) – The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday adopted recommendations to educate pilots on the potential impairment risks in prescription and over-the-counter medications, as use of such medications grows among the entire U.S. population.

NTSB also made six recommendations, four to the Federal Aviation Administration and two to state governments, on how to widen education efforts on impairment by such drugs as well as risks regarding marijuana use. NTSB will also issue a safety alert to pilots regarding the impairment risks of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

“The study focuses on general aviation pilots as a basis for considering the impact of medications on all transportation modes, because it is about the only data set available thanks to mandatory post mortem toxicological screening following fatal accidents. Other modes of personal and recreational transportation are not subject to these requirements,” said Doug Macnair, EAA’s vice president of government relations. “This initial step does not single general aviation out from other transportation modes. NTSB researchers told the Board several times that there is still much to learn before any conclusions can be made. The aircraft accident rate has continued to fall over the 22-year period of the study, and accidents where impairment by medications or drugs are determined to be a causal factor have not increased over that period of time.”

The recommendations came after a Board study showed that since 1990, the number of pilot fatalities involving impairment continued to be a minimal percentage. The most common drug found was diphenhydramine, often found in cold and allergy medications. The findings also showed, unsurprisingly, that prescription and over-the-counter medication use grew with the age of the pilots studied.

“Read the label and find information about these medications,” responded Dr. Loren Groff, one of the NTSB researchers, when asked by Board member Mark Rosekind what pilots should take away from the study.

The researchers also mentioned that the findings do not cast any particular conclusion on those without medical certification, such as sport pilots, who were involved in fatal accidents. Board member Robert Sumwalt asked how the study might affect the push for third-class medical certification reform, but researchers agreed that more information was needed to establish any connection.

Among the recommendations made by the NTSB were four to the FAA:

  • Develop educational information for pilots about potentially impairing drugs, and make pilots aware of less impairing alternatives if they are available;
  • Gather more information about the flying activity of pilots not subject to medical certification;
  • Study the prevalence of drug use among pilots who are not involved in accidents;
  • Develop and distribute a clear policy regarding any marijuana use by airmen regardless of the type of flight operations.

NTSB also made two recommendations to states:

  • Medical providers make available much-needed information about the impairing effects of drugs – not only to pilots, but to operators of vehicles in any mode of transportation;
  • Use existing newsletters for doctors, pharmacists, and any other health professionals to help educate operators in all modes of transportation.

“We agree that there needs to be more education on the effects of medications and drugs in all modes of transportation,” Macnair said. “We also believe that the medical education requirement included as part of the EAA/AOPA proposal for aeromedical reform addresses the knowledge gap that exists in the pilot population on the impairing effects of prescription and over-the-counter medications. Nothing in the medical certification process that exists today effectively accomplishes that.

“The goal of the EAA/AOPA medical reform effort is to reduce unnecessary cost and complexity of medical certification, while improving the education of pilots in a manner allowing them to make smart, informed decisions and thus enhance overall safety.”

About EAA

EAA embodies the spirit of aviation through the world’s most engaged community of aviation enthusiasts. EAA’s 185,000 members and 1,000 local chapters enjoy the fun and camaraderie of sharing their passion for flying, building and restoring recreational aircraft. For more information on EAA and its programs, call 800-JOIN-EAA (800-564-6322) or go to www.eaa.org . For continual news updates, connect with www.twitter.com/EAAupdate .

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Aviation Medical | Flying | News | Press Release

New EAA Video Answers Pilots’ Questions about Completing FAA MedXPress Medical Form

by GlobalAir.com 9. April 2014 09:52
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EAA AVIATION CENTER, OSHKOSH, Wis. — (April 9, 2014) — A new EAA video is answering the most common questions about the now-required MedXPress online form for FAA airmen medical certificates, including how to save time when completing the form.

This unique video features Dr. Greg Pinnell, a member of EAA’s Aeromedical Advisory Council, which consists of EAA-member physicians who volunteer their time to assist other members and guide EAA policy on aeromedical issues. Dr. Pinnell is also a senior flight surgeon for the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing and founded Air Docs, a health provider focused on aviation medical examinations and certification.

“Many longtime pilots are used to filling out the paper form at their own aviation medical examiner’s office, but the FAA now only allows the online form to be used,” said Sean Elliott, EAA’s vice president of advocacy and safety. “The online requirement has led to many questions and occasional confusion and misunderstanding for pilots unfamiliar with the MedXPress system. This new EAA video answers questions, clears confusion, and ensures the first step in obtaining an airman medical certificate is a smooth one.”

During the 20-minute video Dr. Pinnell goes step-by-step through the MedXPress registration and completion process. That includes displaying individual online screens and easy-to-follow instructions on completing the pre-examination paperwork.

“Along with showing the MedXPress online completion process, the video discusses many of the related questions that EAA headquarters receives on a regular basis, as well as those I receive as a senior aviation medical examiner,” Dr. Pinnell said. “We’ve found that having this type of visual instruction is a great help to clearing much of the confusion and apprehension that pilots might have when using the system.”

EAA embodies the spirit of aviation through the world’s most engaged community of aviation enthusiasts. EAA’s 185,000 members and 1,000 local chapters enjoy the fun and camaraderie of sharing their passion for flying, building and restoring recreational aircraft. For more information on EAA and its programs, call 800-JOIN-EAA (800-564-6322) or go to www.eaa.org. For continual news updates, connect with the EAA Twitter feed.

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Aviation Medical | Flying | Press Release

The Business Mission Drives The Aircraft Mission

by David Wyndham 24. March 2014 15:24
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Image: Gulfstream G650

The Gulfstream G650 and Citation Ten vie for the world’s fastest business jet. But if you need to get an accident victim from the accident scene to a hospital fast, you most likely need a helicopter. Business jets are not designed to land beside the highway and helicopters won't do for a long cross-country flight. I'm stating the obvious, but how many aircraft choices seem to ignore this?

"To execute the corporate mission" is the answer to the business question "Why do we have an aircraft?" If the aircraft is a personal aircraft, the "why" may be "to enjoy flying." What type of flying is fun to one person can be very different from another. In the world of business aircraft, whether the business is high tech, services, hospitality, acute care, etc., the why of the aircraft must be tied into the why of the company. If it isn't, then the aircraft may be a mismatch to the company mission.

The closer the aircraft's mission can be tied into the reason for the corporation's existence, the more secure the aircraft (and aviation employees' jobs) will be. If IBM were having a tough year financially, no one would ever suggest that they get rid of all their computers! How close does the mission of your business aircraft fit into the reason your company exists? If the aircraft went away, would it have a negative impact on the ability of its users to successfully execute the company's mission?

Our own company mission is: The mission of Conklin & de Decker is to enable the general aviation industry to make more informed decisions when dealing with the purchase, operation and disposition of aircraft by furnishing objective and impartial information.

We are much too small to afford a corporate aircraft, but if/when we get there, the aircraft better directly support our ability to "enable the general aviation industry to make more informed decisions." The added value to the business from the person(s) using the corporate aircraft must exceed the costs of having that aircraft. If the leader of a corporation is worth $1 billion dollars to the corporation, and their use of the company aircraft enhances that value, then the $1 million budget for the aircraft should be easily defensible. If the mission of the health services company includes providing critical care to a large community, then the EMS helicopter should be easily defensible.

A company has a written mission statement that is used to guide its daily business. The aviation department should also have a written mission statement. That mission statement should support the mission of the corporation. The aviation department should be part of the corporate structure just as legal, human resources, IT and other departments. Your may not be making widgets, but you are making the making and selling of the widgets easier and more productive.

After that, the next step is developing the measurement criteria for the aircraft to enable management to determine how well the aircraft is at meeting its mission needs. Then, and only then, can you start the analysis of speed, range, payload, cabin, and performance needed to make a wise aircraft choice.

What you then end up with is measureable criteria that can be used to evaluate the aircraft choices. Each of those criteria stem from the assigned mission of the aircraft. The assigned mission of the aircraft is directly supporting the mission of the corporation. Thus, the answer to the question of why do we need eight seats and 2,400 NM range, is to support the corporate mission.

A caution here is that in some situations, supporting the senior leadership can be mistaken for NOT supporting the corporation. There are no easy answers to the “big boss uses company jet for private retreat” headline. But, that personal use of the corporate aircraft better be documented and reported.

Business aircraft of all types can be used to further the successful mission accomplishment of the corporation. These missions need to be in writing and clear enough so that the justification of the use of a business aircraft can easily be done.

What is your mission statement? Does your choice of transportation reflect it? Let us know in the comments section below!



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