Contract Airline Services

"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

FAR Requirements

For Mental Health...

As you all know, Aviation Safety is a passion of mine, and the reason I'm pursuing my PhD, as is mental health in the flight deck. While conducting research, I have come to a legal versus responsibility question: 
Are there any Laws or Regulations 
to have a pilot removed from duty
if there is a concern they are a threat 
to the safety of the operation?

Can you help with the following questions? 

  • If a captain thinks a first officer is a threat to the operation... what is the captain's legal and operational responsibility to do with that information?

  • If a captain has this concern while getting a line check, and reports to the check airman concerns with the pilot stating he is a threat to the operation, due to odd and unstable behavior, what would the check airman's legal and operational responsibility?

  • If the captain and check airman take no action, but the check airman later reports this pilot's behavior to management with concerns, what is management's legal responsibility? 

  • What is the captain's legal and operational responsibility to remove a passenger who was a threat to the safety of a flight?

  • Which is more pressing... a passenger or a crew member that this a threat to the operation, and do the same rules apply for removing this person?

Level of severity could be a question... so what if there was absolutely no question because the pilot was identified to be unstable, emotional, displayed odd behavior, and was stated to be a threat to the safe operation of the flight.

We all know the "right" thing to do. But where is this legality and responsibility written in the FARs? 

Has any legislation or FAA discussions been made concerning this issue since Germanwings?

Do you know your legal responsibility?
What would you do?

Your Thoughts are Appreciated!

Enjoy the Journey!
XOX Karlene


  1. Well, aside from the moral responsibility -- which is not encoded in federal regulations, but rather in each of us as a matter of simply being human -- if the PIC thinks the FO, a passenger, a controller, a mechanic working on the plane, or anyone else is a threat, they are empowered by 91.3 to take whatever action is necessary for the safety of the flight.

    The company's obligations are harder to define, but I'm sure they are in 135 or 121 somewhere. If they're aware that someone with a mental or emotional deficiency is operating aircraft for them and do nothing about it, they're creating tremendous legal exposure. At the end of the day, lawyers and bad publicity end up costing them plenty regardless of what the regulatory authorities may do.

    You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make them drink. If you've reported a suspected bad apple to supervisors, company management, then I suppose to the FAA, what else can you do? At least if things go sideways you'll be able to say with a clean conscience that you did everything possible to raise the alarm about it.

    1. Ron, Thank you for your comment. Yes, I think the moral responsibility should trump lacking guidelines. Personally if I thought a person was unsafe and could not have that person removed I would not fly with them. Somewhat knowingly flying with a pilot impaired. We are still the final ruling as what to do when we push back.
      Thank you for your thoughts!

  2. Certainly there's no question that you, as Captain of a flight, would have to do whatever was necessary for the safety of flight. But of course that obligation becomes more grey outside the actual cockpit.

    In any case, legality or not, your accusation would have consequences—filing a report at a minimum, possible testimony before an inquiry, and perhaps a look at your own stability. The other party may even sue you for your accusation, and denying them their "right to ear a living."

    In any case, you'd darn well better have some solid, legitimate evidence backing you up.

    1. Great comment. Would there be any difference if the checkairman giving you the line check, noticed this behavior too, and agreed with your assessment. Then told him. Would he them assume the liability?
      Thank you for your comment!

  3. I'm was military Helicopter pilot and as far as I can discern the PIC can and should TAKE action to offload his co-pilot. Let's give an example. I was seniour in Rank and fully instrument rated. We were to fly a VIP. I took a sip of beer in the party where that VIP was being feted. My co pilot saw my transgression. He told me to deroster myself and authorise him to fly that mission. Which I did as I realised was my mistake. He had the same IR qualification as me. That dear Karlene is true Flight Safety. In this case my copilot "grounded" me. No hassles. I became a more careful pilot. Never broke rules ever. My copilot still flies on the most advanced commercial Bell Choppers. I am a consultant in Flt Safety to the Forces c

    1. Thank you so much for your great example. Safety is the bottom line. I'm glad you utilized the drinking example, because pilots are required to pull a fellow crewmember for substance usage... yet a mental health disorder could be worse. That's where we need our fellow crewmembers to be part of the team and do the right thing and not allow someone to fly if they should not be. And a checkairman is that level one step up that should follow through.
      Thank you so much for the comment!

  4. Here's a question I have: how do you know what's baseline for your crew if you don't know them very well?

    Is there something wrong with Twitchy over there; or do you worry when he's suddenly sitting still? Your purser that's wiped that carafe for the nth time since the coffee maker was turned on because of the small condensations forming; is that their normal? What about the tug driver that's prancing around like he's the Drunken Master; is that just his way of passing the time?

    I think that's the bigger issue. If you don't really have an opportunity to know what their normal is, you won't really know when to voice your concerns to that person. If you escalate up the chain, what ground will you stand on?

    1. Keith, that's a great comment! It may just be your opinion... and not a valid opinion. There are many people who are just quiet. There are other people who might be twitchy. Excellent points.

      This example was more what if the captain made all those statements, and then told the line checkairman who happened to be giving a linecheck and agreed with him, so much so they reported the pilot. Do you think that would constitute just checking on the pilot to see if they were okay?

      As always, I appreciate your thoughts!! Thank you for the comment.

  5. The moral duty is this type of situation is clear, but as usual the regulatory support is ambiguous at best. I searched 14 CFR Parts 61, 91, 119 and 121 and the only things I could find which even alluded to situations such as these were in Part 121.

    First, the airline's manual, in theory, should deal with situations like these

    §121.135 Manual contents.
    (a) Each manual required by §121.133 must—
    (1) Include instructions and information necessary to allow the personnel concerned to perform their duties and responsibilities with a high degree of safety;
    (b) The manual may be in two or more separate parts, containing together all of the following information, but each part must contain that part of the information that is appropriate for each group of personnel:
    (2) Duties and responsibilities of each crewmember, appropriate members of the ground organization, and management personnel.
    (26) Other information or instructions relating to safety

    And the other piece is
    §121.580 Prohibition on interference with crewmembers.
    No person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember's duties aboard an aircraft being operated under this part

    This is about all there is I think. Pretty sad.

    1. Chris, this is interesting. Thank you for adding your thoughts. I think this must fall under the captain's authority with the safety of the flight. And the airlines should have processes in place with directives.

      This comes down to the ultimate responsibility and safety of the flight. Also, I'm thinking... checkairman are anointed by the FAA as their representatives. I wonder what the FAA's responsibility for the safety of the flight is.

      Thank you for adding insight to this important discussion!

  6. 20 years air force and 20 years private aviation has given me training, procedues, chain of command, policies, managers - life has given me morals. However one thing has saved my life in many sceneros that you have mentioned above. Trusting my gut, and not the brain roller coaster of the human factors - compassion, fear of someones job loss, social labeling a tattle tale, etc. Example. I was teamed up with a pilot who is a nice soul, but my gut was telling me something is wrong. He did seem to be all there mentally. I'm sure he has skills to fly, else he would not be there. I being a flight attendant, could not speak to his abilities, just my gut feeling of a uncomfortable safe environment. The next time I was teamed up, I requested not to fly with individual and relayed my concerns. I was not alone. Management, check airman, HR, policies, procedues all kicked in. End result, individual was mercury poisoned - which effects a humans mental capacity. Sooo. With all this mouthful - legality there is a system in place, but morally trust your gut.

    1. Detra, You make an excellent point. We owe it to our fellow workers to do the right thing "for" them. Anyone who thinks enabling a person to fly drunk, or with mental concerns...etc, is not helping them.

      As you found out, following your gut, and doing the right thing, you helped him to find out what was actually going on. Maybe saved the flight.

      Thank you for your integrity of stepping forward! And a reminder... we are here to help others in this world.

  7. Karlene,

    Been thinking about this for a few days so I apologize in advance for the long response.

    Why does it have to be the Captain that pulls the FO. It could very easily be the other way around, the new FO flying with the bat crazy Captain. We all have a duty to end the flight when safety is comprised. And it doesn't end with the front end crew, it extends to the flight attendants as well. There are so many public examples of crazy crew members popping off while performing their crew duties.

    Which leads to the bigger question. What is crazy? Over a typical flying career 30 to 40 years, how often is a pilot clinically crazy? I don't know and I would be afraid to know because it is more common than any of us want to admit.

    Is the other pilot going through a divorce? Experiencing a major life event? Death of a spouse? Death of a child? Bankrupt? Legal issues? Tax issues? And I am intentionally not going to mention substance abuse problems, DUI, or health issues.

    We all have flown with people who were clinically depressed because of life. Probably many of us have flown while being clinically depressed. The criteria to be considered clinical depressed is not as high as you might think. Yes, it is a temporary, few months kind of thing. But during that time, the crew member is not a high level functioning pilot.

    Crazy isnt usually a life time thing. It is a season of life thing. But once a pilot says the words, "I'm depressed" then they are always considered crazy even after they beat the issue.

    Mental Health is a society problem. It is a big problem and one that is unsolved. People with mental health issues are given good medicines and good access to mental health professionals. Then they are sent back home after they promise to take their meds. After a few weeks, they feel better and stop taking the meds then the crazy returns and they end up shooting up a mall/movie theater/school/church.

    As pilots, we cant even access those meds without taking a year off from work. We constantly lie to ourselves and others. We tell ourselves that we are fine, that we can handle the stress, that we are not depressed and that we are good. But that same pilot is in tears when they drive down the road. They sit in the hotel with the lights off for hours talking to themselves. They cant sleep and they make crazy comments on facebook or on the flight deck.

    All the while, unethical doctors and managers use mental health as a baseball bat to punish those pilots who step off the line and dare to point out real safety issues.

    Makes me wonder what really is crazy?


    1. Rob, I'm going to respond with the first thing that came to my mind... Amen!

      You're so accurate... it could be anyone, and we don't know what's happening in the person's life. We all have flown with those depressed souls, but we are there as the support system.

      Interesting that you mentioned the unethical topic of management and doctors, as this is an underlying theme in the newest novel... Flight for Sanity.

      Great question...

      Yes... who is crazy?

      Thank you for your comment, and we'll figure that answer soon!

  8. Karlene,

    I must say that reading through the comments above that there are a lot of great points being made. All in all, I would say that if anyone sees anything that could be a potential threat to a flight, that it needs to be removed.

    Mental health in every way is a very serious topic especially since the Alps tragedy. One comment above that I would like to point out is that of Keith. How do you know what is Baseline (behavior) for crew? Especially when airlines merge and unfamiliar crews fly together... how do we know what is baseline?

    Also, Rob brings a good point. Persons who seek mental health professional help, are prescribed medications, take them for a certain period of time, then stop because they feel like they do not need them anymore and/or do not like the side effects?

    The human moral factor is there as well as the legal responsibility. It's better to take care of the issue at hand or then have a huge legal repercussion to deal with after something goes seriously wrong. Pro-active versus reactive.

    I hope this helps and/or adds perspective.

  9. Jeremy, this is so true. Actually I was on a conversation with a Forensic psychiatrist who said that if we spend many days a month, then we can see a baseline. The old days. But the truth is now, there are so many pilots normally you've never flown with them.

    I'm also glad you mentioned about the medication. Because, we can fly on antidepresents... but I always thought the same thing... what if the person forgets or stops taking them. It's hard to keep a regular schedule flying international.

    What we need to do is make it safe for pilots to come forward, and not fear they will lose their jobs, and or income to take care of the problem.

    Thanks for your comment!


Thank you for your comment! If your comment doesn't appear immediately, it will after I land. Enjoy the journey!