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"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.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Solutions to Mental Health

By Improving the Cultural Environment

Last week in the post: Mental Health and Culture, I presented the negative impact and power that corporate culture has on the mental health of a pilot, and how a toxic work environment can negatively impact any employee.  Today I want to share how airlines could improve the mental health of pilots, and the entire workgroup overnight, if they were truly concerned. 

With all the rhetoric about concern for pilots' mental health, I suggest there are some easy steps that could be taken to improve the mental health and associated performance of our pilots. 

1). Sign the pilot contract and remove uncertainty. There is absolutely no reason that airline pilots should wait 4-5 years, or longer, to get a contract to improve working conditions. The stress of this uncertainty is impacting the mental health of all your pilots, and contractual requirements are necessary to reduce fatigue. 

2). Airline management should honor Federal Regulations and stop extending flight crews to ungodly hours on duty via corporate "workarounds" despite the FAA's approval. Placing pilots on duty over 24 hours may be deemed a workaround, but that practice is in violation of any SMS. This practice is causing excessive fatigue and is a safety concern. 

3). Staff the airline properly to enable employee downtime. Granted, airline management allowed early retirement of far too many pilots to rid itself of the most expensive pilots, despite being allotted government money as a result of Covid. But two wrongs don't make a right. Fix your mistakes, don't cover them up with pilot pushing. 

4). Pay all pilots adequately versus paying some double time to incentivize pilots to fly fatigued. This statement circles back to point 1: Sign your contract. 

5). Management should be held to higher standards than those they lead. Hypocrisy angers most people, and the double standards of ethics and compliance sets the bar for other employees very low.

6). Scrap the doctor note requirement (that is easily obtained) and treat your employees with respect. Every U.S. pilot is required to sign a release asserting that they are fit to fly prior to departure. Unfortunately, some airline management has determined that these professionals cannot make that determination prior to arriving to the airport. Perhaps we should have a doctor sign the release at each departure certifying pilots are fit to fly, if pilots cannot be trusted to know their health. 

7). Allow pilots to use their allotted sick leave for mental health days without question. If a pilot were to have an argument with their spouse that has put them on edge, is dealing with a troubled teen, a crying baby, or just wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, that pilot should be able to use his or her allotted sick days for a mental health day. Those who know they should not be in a plane will act accordingly and call in sick anyway. If required, they will find a doctor to write them a note. No doctor will ever force a pilot to fly. My question is, why is the company forcing pilots to lie so the pilot can ensure a safe operation

8). Management should practice what they preach. Nothing sickens people more than observing behavior that contradicts the marketing mantra that is known to be false. 

9). Stop paying doctors to falsely assert pilots are alcoholics or mentally unfit because they report safety concerns. Meaning, stop retaliating and just solve the problem instead of killing the messenger. 

There will always be pilots with multiple issues outside the workplace that they are trying to deal with. The FAA wants those pilots to come forward if they need help. Everyone, management included, advises us to seek help before it's too late. The problem is, if all a pilot needs is some time to deal with issues at home, to exercise, sleep and get physically and mentally healthy, then wouldn't the first step be to take some time off? Why wouldn't that first step be to use their sick leave to get some much needed rest? If a pilot has sick-leave available, why is that pilot prohibited from using that time until he pushes himself to sickness or mentally breaks? 

10). The FAA should mandate that any pilot who needs time off should be allowed to use company allotted sick leave without question. 

“Take your time healing, as long as you want. 
Nobody else knows what you’ve been through. 
How could they know how long it will take to heal you?” 
— Abertoli

Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene

Friday, May 27, 2022

Mental Health and Culture

Of An Airline

We are approaching the end of Mental Health Awareness month, and with the recent China Eastern Flight MU5735 crash, due to pilot suicide, pilots' mental health continues to be a topic of conversation. However, I believe we should pause for a moment, and shift the focus of this conversation away from the effect and focus on the cause of stress.

There is no justification for harming another person, but every person has a breaking point. Some people are more resilient than others, but that can change overnight if the person works within a toxic environment. Perhaps the industry and the FAA should look at the airline environment. 

I listened to Dr. Susan Northrup on the FAA Podcast on mental health today.  The FAA ensures us that it's okay to speak out if you are a pilot who has a problem you cannot deal with, without risk to your certification. She discusses the resources available for coping. Then a pilot assistant member, Ellen, encouraged pilots to talk early and talk often to help eliminate the stress. I would recommend listening to the Podcast and download it. Listen to it because there is good advice, and download it in the event your company management decides to retaliate and claims you're unfit to fly. 

My concerns with the FAA's assertions are with the group of FAA approved AME's who are on the "list" to be purchased by airlines for giving false and disqualifying diagnosis. I was recently told by an FAA HIMS AME that "Doctors can be bought" and he asserted "this is a dirty business". Therefore, when an airline can assert a pilot is overly concerned for safety and thinks a manager is out to get her, therefore she must be like the Germanwings pilot, then can pull her from duty with an assertion of mental health, and then subsequently pay a HIMS psychiatrist $74,000 to give her a diagnosis that "permanently" removes her from flight, how safe is the pilot who seeks help?

My friend recently visited a mental health care professional because of her toxic working environment in what she said "is a very low-stress job". Her comment to me was, "Could you imagine if we faced this in a high-stress job?" Yes, I could, as flying airplanes is a high-stress career. The therapist said that most of us have Teflon skins that can shield anything, but when there are cracks in the Teflon, the snakes get it and can destroy you. A pilot later reminded me that excessive heat also destroys Teflon. How much heat is being applied to pilots?

After the Germanwings crash the FAA and associated task-force groups were formed to determine what could be done to assess the mental health of pilots. But the Germanwings pilot had been through a swinging door of a psychiatric ward for many years and his inadequate performance was well documented. That potential event was not a surprise. That accident was not the typical result of a stressed pilot and could have been stopped. That crash was the result of a broken human and authorities looking the other way. 

As a benefit to US Airlines' bottom line, former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta did not require airline pilots to take neuropsychological tests during each physical, saving airlines millions. Huerta asserted that psychological tests are ineffective because they reveal a pilot’s mental health for only a moment in time without providing insight into whether the pilot will suffer problems later. The Germanwings pilot could have been identified as a problem at any point in time by reading his files, not by one of those tests. 

Unfortunately, the FAA is still requiring the neuropsychological testing for pilot return due to mental health related issues, despite Huerta's assertion. Those tests are completely unrelated to mental health but are directly related to cognitive ability. Those tests are nothing but brain games that are difficult for anyone to pass without preparation. There is training available, and the tests can also be found on line. Even the Germanwings pilot could have been trained to pass those tests, but that would not have made him a better pilot and would not have solved his mental health issues. The results would have been the same.  

Corporate Responsibility and Causation

It's illegal for employees to be forced to work in a toxic environment, so says OSHA. There are laws protecting employees from unsafe environments. Where are the laws to protect pilots from working in a negative safety culture? The FAA has made Safety Management Systems (SMS) a federal regulation that requires a positive safety culture. Yet the FAA is looking the other way and allowing retaliation in the workplace, and "workarounds" of duty time regulations placing pilots on duty for up to 25 hours, of which is a violation of SMS. 

Hundreds of pilots across the nation are picketing and fighting for contracts addressing fatigue and work rules. I find it ironic that airline management and the FAA are touting mental health awareness, when one of the primary killers of sound mental health is fatigue. Pilots can handle most anything when they are rested, but push them to an excessive level of fatigue and their skills decline---memory, performance, and coping.

Nobody performs well when fatigued. Performance decreases, tempers raise, mistakes occur, and coping skills lower. A simple view of the ASAP program and the thousands of errors made daily are a result of something. Fatigue? Poor training? Distraction? Work environment is everything to mental health. My friend who was talking to her mental health professional was doing so because of the behavior of a director in her department. What about airline management behavior?

Imagine an airline manager terminating a pilot who was dealing with his divorce, on medical leave, on medication, and he pass traveled and was fired for policy violation. "He forgot to get permission." Yet a director is proven to have retaliated against a pilot for reporting safety and yet nothing happens to him. These situations create an unjust environment and produce a negative safety culture. 

When airlines utilize programs like HIMS to control pilots and assert that everyone in the program is an alcoholic, even if they were forced there for their first-ever glass of wine and got pulled over for a taillight or they would be fired, or were raped. But the pilot's objection to the assertion is identified as "alcoholics behavior". The abuse and hardship in the HIMS program has caused numerous pilots to commit suicide, but is being swept under the rug. These pilots are not killing themselves in a plane, but their lives should matter. The reason they are pulling the trigger should be investigated. When the program is the problem, it should be fixed. 

What if airline management retaliates against employees for bringing forth safety concerns, and because management has the power and unlimited stockholder funds they get away with it. What would that do to the mental health of a pilot? I read yesterday, "We should never underestimate how psychologically weakening and damaging it is to be forced to treat as true something that is not true."  This applies to those being accused of being alcoholics as well.

How far can airline management push pilots until they break? That breaking point is a moving target for each pilot and differs between individuals.  What pushed that extremely senior first officer on China Eastern Flight MU5735, who should have been flying as a captain, to crash his plane? 

If airline management and the FAA alike are interested in improving mental health, I believe the focus should be on changing the environment, versus hunting those who have had their teflon cracked due to the work environment.

Sign contracts, honor federal regulations regarding duty time limitations, lead by example, respect your flight crews, and stop working them like pack mules. When a person continually beats a dog with a stick and the dog bites him, whose fault is it?

The current world environment due to Covid, compliance, fear of the unknown, lack of security, finances, family worries, lockdowns, etc., has created an environment ripe for mental health concerns. Mix that with the high stress job of a pilot. Add a huge dose of a toxic environment due to negative safety culture, knowledge that pilots are not protected by regulations because the FAA is allowing airlines to "workaround" regulations and tell me what we should expect as a result? Pilots are human.  

I do not support or believe any agency should force medication on a pilot to "find his or her way back to the flight deck" if the reason the pilot is having issues is the result of a negative safety culture. Fix the environment. Don't drug the pilot who reports safety concerns and then is frustrated by the lack of FAA oversight and management's violation of corporate policy and federal regulations and may not manage that frustration well because they are excessively fatigued due to those corporate violations. What coping skills are needed in this situation?  Look the other way, or be drugged so you no longer care about passenger safety? Perhaps we should fix the culture.

If the FAA seriously wants to improve mental health, and I believe they do, then Safety Culture and SMS at all airlines should be enforced. AMEs who are known to be purchased should be removed. I know a doctor who knows who these doctors are. Will the FAA start their investigation at his door? Time will tell. 

Return Monday to see what we can do to improve mental health. 

Enjoy the Journey!

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Gambling With Your Life

 A Sickness in the Aviation Industry 

There are good gamblers and there are bad gamblers. The distinction between the two is knowing when to walk away from the table.

When a person is not dealt the desired cards or the dice aren't rolling his way, a good gambler has the mental capacity to accept his losses and walk away from the table. Whereas a bad gambler goes on tilt. The bad gambler thinks if he doubles down he will eventually win. He believes that time is on his side. Until he loses everything.

Knowing odds, understanding statistics, and having the ability to make educated decisions can help while playing cards. However, the ego driven individual who cannot handle losing, despite what it will cost him, and begins betting on the river with nothing in his hand, the odds are against him. 

What happens when these high-level poker games are real life and passengers' lives are at stake?

Airline Management and Gambling

When airline managers begin gambling with passenger safety and someone calls them on it, and these managers stay in the game despite having nothing in their hand, they are destined for failure. When management loses, and the ego takes over and compels them to try and win at any cost, ignoring the high risk behavior, this identifies a sickness not unlike that of the gambler who is unable to walk away from the table. Unfortunately these managers are gambling with peoples lives. 

When the embarrassment of that loss becomes too great, and these managers decide to permanently remove the player from the game who called them out for risking passengers lives, instead of solving the problem, this compulsive behavior identifies a sickness. When these managers want that person gone at any expense, and are willing to pay any amount to stay in a game that they cannot win, simply to remove the player permanently, raises this behavior to the level of a psychosis. 

Unfortunately these managers hold the worst possible hand during the game of getting even. Yet, they stay in the game. This game is now live for others to watch. The cameras are rolling and these managers have to redeem their integrity. They have to prove they can win despite not having anything in their hand. They have to get rid of that player who won, to prove they were correct and restore their manhood.

The problem is, when these ego driven managers have placed themselves in this position they are not making logical decisions. They are not focused on their jobs. Not focused on managing the airline. And, unfortunately, they are financing this high-level poker game with stockholder and employees' money. These managers have unlimited pockets and can attack the player they want gone without any accountability. 

They believe time is on their side, and continue dumping money into a game they cannot win. Perhaps believing that eventually they may get lucky. More likely they have nothing to lose and intend to keep the game going as long as they can, at everyone else's expense, knowing that when the game is finally shutdown, they will be retired with their golden parachutes and stock options.

It's unfortunate when these games begin as the result of players, highly invested in passenger safety, say, "We should not gamble on passenger's live." When management's response is to remove the player, Federal Law (AIR21) is supposed to protect the individual, as reporting culture is required under Safety Management Systems (SMS). Sadly, airline managers have learned to use the AIR21 statute as another high-level poker game where the individual who reported safety becomes an unwitting player.

Irresponsible gambling is a sickness. It doesn't matter if you're sitting in a card room or at the Board of Directors table of an airline. Someone who cares might need to intervene and help those who cannot help themselves. If you know a gambler, airline manager, or a CEO who needs help do the right thing, please help them to help themselves. Identification of the problem is the first step. 

Airline Management and Gamblers alike, 
If you have a gambling problem get help!


Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene PhD, MBA, MHS

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Home Sweet Home



Every New Beginning Comes
The End of a New Beginning

My first Golf course!
Built with love for my hubby. 

This is a one-level, 2500 square-foot home that has a generator that automatically powers the entire house and all appliances in 30 seconds of a power outage. There is built-in air-conditioning with a heat pump, an electric gate with a 7-car parking space, a tankless water heater, a putting green in the backyard and a slate patio out front with a living fountain.  Two large gas fireplaces, and even a new roof!  

A 400 square foot kitchen 
creates a living space all its own!

It's been said, "No woman could do that!" But yes, I tiled the kitchen floors, the countertops, backslpash, the brick around the fireplace and on the far wall. I even designed the hanging lamp. A NWA first officer saw me drawing a picture of what I wanted, and he told me his wife made stained glass lamps. Believe in the power of putting what you want into a visual and you can make it happen. Years later we went to A330 school together. (Lamp does not go with the house). 

I planted the bamboo in the backyard, but it's not normal bamboo. It's clumping bamboo and she grows  straight up and not sideways, so this does not create havoc with pipes and makes a gorgeous privacy fence. Best thing I ever did and will do this again at my lake house.

There are hardwood, slate, and tile floors throughout the entire home, with custom shutters in all bedrooms. That is a great feature if you need to sleep in the day after flying all night. A must in every home. 

Then the designer 400 sf kitchen w/gas fireplace & vaulted ceiling opens to a 250 sf glass-covered deck. Off the other side of the deck is a 340 sf den with a wine fridge & sink. 

This room, alias den, was my office. I had a hide-a-bed for the grandkids, area rugs to play on, a television and a toy box. Many fun times were found in this room, and many books were written here as well. But I can totally see a pool table. Oh... and there is a wired in sounds system through the office, living room and dining room, too! 

The den opens to a 300 sf living room w/gas fireplace, built-in bookshelves and vaulted ceilings. Double French doors separate the living room and den or make one large entertaining space. 

This was once the Lake View Lounge
The one place in the house we could see Angle Lake. 

There is a huge dining room with built in glass-door cabinets and windows overlooking the slate patio. Now, to put this dining room's size into perspective, the table is a 9 foot diameter, and we moved it in with the walls open. Either the new buyers want it, or we will break the glass and dismantle it to move it out, as it will not fit through a doorway. The top of the table is carved horses and another creation I made for my hubby. 

One bathroom has soaking tub and the other a bench seat in the shower. I tiled both these rooms. Not just the floors, but I did the bathtub and the shower too. Don't call me crazy, I'm just really handy with a tile saw. So the moral of this story is, lots of love and devotion went into creating this house. 

Our home is nestled just off of angle lake, 10 minutes to SeaTac airport and 5 minutes to the freeway. This house offers all the convenience of perfect location, but low noise due to the lake and trees, and exceptional privacy with a low-maintenance landscaped yard. Sitting on a 12,000 sf property, zoning provides the ability to build a second level and add a garage.  

While there is only a carport, a garage can be easily built in the footprint of the carport, and not impede on the electric gate. Open the gate. Raise the garage door. Drive in for double security. And an apartment could be built over the top as well. 

There is also a ton of parking space! 

PRICED TO SELL:    $689,000


Friday May 6, from 2-5 pm
Saturday May 7, from 10 am to 5 pm
Sunday May 8 from 1pm to 5 pm.  

3743 S 188th St
SeaTAC WA 98188

To find the house: we are off of 188th street. Turn south, toward lake at the 39th street sign, in front of the mailboxes, at fire post #68. We are the third house on the left. Hope to see you there! 

I will be there to show the house, sell books, and do a bit of studying. If the dates and times don't work for you, and you are a serious pre-qualified buyer, please email me and I will schedule a private showing.

Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene