FAA Launches Rulemaking Committee On Pilots’ Mental Health

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With concerns raised over whether pilots fear seeking treatment for mental health issues, the FAA announced today (Nov. 9) it will establish a Pilot Mental Health Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to address the issue. According to the announcement, the FAA “expects the committee to provide recommendations on breaking down the barriers that prevent pilots from reporting mental health issues to the agency.”

Members of the committee will include medical experts and representatives from aviation and labor. In the coming weeks, the charter for the ARC will be finalized and the FAA will appoint its panel of experts.

Noting that work has already been accomplished on the subject, the FAA said the new initiative will build on that foundation. Among the areas given priority are increasing mental health training for aviation medical examiners (AMEs), providing support for industry-wide studies and research into pilots’ mental health, adding more mental health professionals to the FAA staff with the dual goals of expanding in-house expertise in the field and hastening “return-to-fly” decision-making for pilots awaiting FAA action, performing clinical research and amending policies on cognitive testing for pilots taking antidepressant medication, and ramping up efforts to connect with pilot groups to inform them of available resources.

Newly confirmed FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said, “Mental health care has made great strides in recent years, and we want to make sure the FAA is considering those advances when we evaluate the health of pilots.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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20 COMMENTS

  1. They are worried about the health of the pilots. I am more worried about the ages of the private pilots. Not so much commercial, but others.

    I saw a guy get out of his handicapped placard toting Toyota. Grab his cane and walker, and slowly make his way into the building.

    Then I heard him talk about his Mooney to the other pilots. I quickly got out of there. If that guy is still flying in his age and condition, I don’t want to stick around for the inevitable outcome.

  2. Did you ask him about it? I’ve seen 38 year old Marine Officers walking around with canes too with handicap permits. They flew pretty good. My favorite instructor was 80, with a reputation for being tough. The only thing he ever said was, “You fly pretty good, why don’t you try it this way, instead.” I learned more in 15 minutes with him than all the airline timebuilders I’ve had. The guy had more aeronautical, knowledge, experience and ability in his toenail than most of the commuter commercial pilots I have known. I worry more about the 1600 hour barbie jet driver who thinks left traffic is for sissies at uncontrolled airports.

  3. The more onerous the FAA makes the health reporting system, the less compliance they are going to get.

    This is a perfect example of a government agency trying to CYA baes in some isolated incidences of people who should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

    I’m happy to take a mental health test, right after Joe Biden takes his.

  4. Delivering mental health care primarily considering PTSD and veteran suicide with programs in the VA have been helpful to a noticeable degree.

    Battling the socially driven fears of weakness and vulnerability and the inhibiting generalizations of government effectiveness as redundantly seen here among pilots and there among veterans alike is a difficult yet noble effort to counteract for the continued mental health of all concerned.

    I wish Mr. Whitaker and the committee success in their effort, perhaps they will find a similar tool for pilots as the VA has through Biden’s PACT Act that has helped many veterans in our military services.

    • Only if there’s also a law to keep physically deficient pilots from piloting planes.
      Broke a leg skiing? You’re out of the cockpit, because there’s no guarantee you won’t break a leg again. Got high blood pressure and you’re on meds for that? Gone; clearly you have poor health habits.

      Obviously I’m being facetious above, but they are the same arguments the FAA currently uses against pilots with mental health issues (at any point in their lives). We’re not talking about allowing pilots with schizophrenia or other major disorders flying (just as we don’t allow people with major physical disorders to fly). But the mindset of only allowing people with no reported mental health issues of any kind (even effectively treatable conditions) is counterproductive because it encourages people to hide conditions and continue flying with them untreated. That is a fact that is showing itself more and more.

  5. Change has to happen in this area, as we’ve all seen. I hope the FAA moves faster than it did with Basic Med or the LSA changes; never mind 100LL.

    BUT, there’s no way in hell I would trust anyone involved in this new working group, if I had an issue of mental health. Good luck to them in figuring this out with minimal cooperation from pilots.

  6. Let’s see; this is coming from the same people who have done so well with PAFI, EAGLE, Basic Med, LSA updates, part 23 rewrite, the G100UL debacle and so many other “successes”. I’m sure Whitaker has good intentions here, but with the FAA’s track record on so many other issues, I doubt that this effort will produce much of value. I hope I’m wrong this time, but their track record doesn’t instill much confidence.

  7. When you let the airlines write FAR 117, you can’t be surprised that chronically fatigued and under-rested pilots develop mental disorders. There was a time in the not-so-distant past that airline pilots would never dream of FARs being used as work rules.

    The inconvenient truth is that humans cannot be worked like a computer and productivity will have to move back a row or two and airlines will have to build schedules that don’t grind pilots to a pulp.

    I was jokingly (?) told that the Preface to the CRJ POH says, “CAUTION- Insufficient exploitation may result in reduced profits”

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