A Look At How Pilots Are Dealing With Mental Health Challenges

The job of an airline. pilot it is, by its nature, stressful. Airline pilots must take care of a multi-million dollar crew and every human on board, regardless of inclement weather or misbehaving passengers. Thyme must also comply with many regulations and communicate very well with others. It’s a huge responsibility to carry that, along with personal responsibilities like family and such, can take a toll.

What can and cannot cause a pilot’s medical exam to be suspended

It is worth considering that many pilots fear that they will miss their medical exam even due to a supposed mental health problem. The case of Delta Air Lines pilot and published author Karlene Pettit, as reported in the Associated Press on December 28, 2020, shows that if the airline’s preferred psychiatrist mistakenly finds you mentally unfit to fly commercially, it can be punished indefinitely. Fortunately, the courts were able to restore Pettit to flight status as the court process progressed. Nonetheless, pilots are legitimately concerned about reporting mental health issues.


Karlene Pettit was finally cleared to continue flying. Photo: Karlene Pettit

A review of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and 14 CFR 67.107 shows that a serious mental health problem is a threat to maintaining an Airman First Class medical certificate, which pilots of US airlines need to fly. Far more serious issues, such as substance abuse, psychosis, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, heart disease, or visual impairment are good grounds for suspending or revoking medical certification. Additionally, some medications may require a pilot not to fly for a specified period.

The FAA also requires an aviation medical examiner to regularly check airline pilots. Other things that are monitored along with heart and vision include visits to the health care professional, medications taken, and the like. If the aviation medical examiner has concerns, the FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine can be easily consulted. FAA also emphasizes that,

“The FAA encourages pilots to seek help if they have a mental health condition, as most, if treated, do not disqualify a pilot from flying.”

It’s also a good idea for airline pilots to seek resources from their union, as described below.

Certainly the resources are available

A good example of existing resources for pilots is Delta Pilots’ MEC arrangement for a Pilot Assistance Network or PAN to help pilots combat mental health challenges. As “Engage: The Podcast for Delta Pilots” podcast host Ryan Argenta and PAN Committee Chairman Grant Olbrich explain, viewing marriage-saving counseling is not reportable. But when it comes to seeking help for a mental health problem, there are confidential options available. One option is PAN.

In Olbrich’s words, PAN is meant to provide a confidential pilot-to-pilot conversation about anything challenging a pilot that is throwing him off-center, mentally or otherwise. Most PAN members have had health problems and have had to work to become fit to fly again.

For Argenta, the episode was personal since,

“I always say that, ‘If you’re a Delta pilot, I’ll do a quick kick for you. Because we are on the same team. And hearing about someone who took his own life because he couldn’t navigate getting help, because he was a pilot, that grabs me. And that’s why we’re doing this. That’s why we’re posting this, everyone should know. SKILLET.”

Another is the Aviation Medicine Advisory Service or AMAS, which works with ALPA and operates on a confidential basis from airline management, the FAA and the public. AMAS can work with a pilot to build a plan to return to full mental health and safely maintain or regain flight status as soon as possible.

SWAPA also has resources

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, or SWAPA, “The SWAPA Number” podcast has also addressed resources for pilots in need of mental health care. SWAPA has a program similar to PAN and calls it the ProjectLift program. For your Chess Fulton chair,

“Project LIFT is there when you need to talk to someone who has the knowledge and resources to help you through your problem, and we know the impact of different courses of action regarding your career. And we provide these services to members of family. too. We’ve seen a marked increase in teen depression and suicidal ideation. So if you or a family member has a problem, call.”

ProjectLift volunteers are Southwest pilots, well-trained in dealing with mental health issues and able to find quality support when needed. The SWAPA union will also work with a pilot experiencing mental health issues to re-certify with the FAA.

Also, in terms of suicide prevention, ProjectLift is one tool, but not the only one, available to prevent suicides. Specific techniques are also used, such as talking about each topic and understanding that, as ProjectLift committee member Matt Foust explained,

“When someone is suicidal, all it means is that they are depressed. Suicide is the end result of being depressed.”

Hence the need for early and, if possible, collegiate intervention to save lives. Of course, if someone appears to be at immediate suicide risk, calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is a moral choice. Especially since suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.


Yes, if an airline pilot has mental health issues, there are resources to help that pilot work through them.

Photo: Joe Kunzler | single flight

Pilots should contact their union for mental health resources when feeling down or low. It is easy and honorable to ask for help. It is also increasingly recognized that pilots have a stressful job; a job, in the words of F-14 pilot turned airline pilot Terry Deitz to vice.com, that involves the following:

There are 150 people sitting behind me. But that really means 15,000. Because 100 people are going to go to each of those people’s funerals, that’s how I think about it.

Add to that responsibility the problems of pilot fatigue in delta airlines Y Southwest Airlines lately. Also, the personal responsibilities that pilots have, such as family and bills. You can see how the good work of being an airplane pilot pushes the mental health of pilots to the limit. Finding a partner to discuss workplace issues is best for everyone, no matter where you work.

Do you think enough is being done for the mental health of pilots? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments please.

Sources: December 28, 2020 Associated Press, FAA – Questions and answers about pilot medical certification, vice.com

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