What can we do?
Over the previous week I have been asked numerous times if I was surprised that the first officer of a German Wings A320 flew that plane into the mountains. My answer has been no. The reason I wrote a novel, Flight For Control, that themed this event four years earlier, was to create awareness of a potential threat that could happen at any time.
After I earned a masters in human services, having researched stress and psychology, my eyes opened wide to the human element. The stress of the aviation industry, pension loss, layoffs, workrule changes, seniority loss, combined with the stress of home life, and take that into the airplane, the potential was there for problems to arise. Why?
Because there are no support systems to help pilots with mental health issues, and pilots are human.
I wanted to create awareness of a very serious issue that one day could arrive in the flightdeck, but nobody believed me, despite similar incidents having already occurred. Now everyone knows. The question is what will the industry do?
This month, our BIF team (Blogging In Formation) discusses responsible reporting. But what does that mean? And is speculation irresponsible? Or is brainstorming a good thing?
Ron Rapp cries: "Do Something", whereas CapnAux doesn't want to believe that this was a suicide until the facts are in, and hopes that it was hypoxia. And then there is Captain Mark L. Berry who lived depression after a horrific event, but could not self diagnose, and it took the Airline to make the decision to pull him from the flight line and force him into therapy. A riveting story at AirwaysNews.com.
What can we do?
- Create programs that bring pilots together annually (like the old days) to discuss issues on the flight line, diffuse stress, and for education on mental health to teach pilots this is not a weakness, and there is hope beyond being grounded for a few months to get mentally fit.
- Make sure that it's safe for a pilot to come forward without the stigma attached. Pilots with alcohol problems can self-report, get help, and return...Pilots dealing with stress and anxiety should too.
- If a pilot needs to be on drugs that they should not fly with, due to mental issues, the examiner should be required to notify the airline. The pilot will not do that themselves. No patient who is not of right mind should be expected to follow through on notification or doing the right thing, because they are mentally impaired.
The answer to this travesty should not be about assessment and regulation, but education and awareness.
The system had that first officer. The Dr.s knew that he was ill without regulation. The problem was what they did with that knowledge- Nothing! I am sure that everyone in hindsight is saying, "I wish I would have, because I thought..." I hope that everyone in the future will learn from this. Pilots are just people and they can and may break. We need to be there to make sure they have the help if that happens.
In Loving Memory of the Passengers
This incident goes beyond the 150 lives lost on this flight. It's the thousands of friends and family members that are connected to those people who are impacted. Those are the people that have to figure out how to move forward and live without their loved ones. It's the people left behind. I hope that when the time is right, they will reach out to Mark L Berry, as he has lived their pain through another inexcusable and death on an airplane.
Enjoy the Journey,
This is an isolated event from a very sick man. Not the reason to panic, fear, or not trust those pilots flying you to safety. This event has created awareness, and I hope the industry will create a support system to deal with the issue.