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Pilots’ union calls for end to mental health stigma

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) has stated that it will support all measures to help pilots with mental health issues, following the release of the Germanwings 4U 9525 accident report

The French accident investigation authorities have released their report in to the crash of Germanwings 4U 9525. The 87-page report, released by the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses, investigated if anything could have prevented the actions of the pilot, Andreas Lubitz, who crashed a passenger jet into a French mountainside in March 2015.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) has released a statement that it will, along with other pilot associations in Europe, urgently examine the report’s findings in detail and will support any recommendation that could help prevent a tragedy like this in future.

BALPA General Secretary, Jim McAuslan, said, “A year ago pilots were shocked that this could occur. Today our thoughts are still with the Captain who lived our worst nightmare – being locked out of the cockpit and trying to get in to save the plane and its passengers.

“This may have been an accident which was impossible to predict, and difficult to prevent, but that has not stopped pilots and the industry working hard to reduce the risk of this happening again and a huge amount of work has already been done.” More information is available on the ECA website.

The Association hopes that incidents like this one will not force mental health issues into the dark. “The worst thing that could happen as a result of this accident and investigation is that the awful actions of one lone individual could drive mental health issues underground and stigmatise the very real issue of mental health. One-in-four people in the UK suffers mental health issues at some point in their lives. With support and treatment almost all can get better.

“Our industry, and society at large, need to get better at understanding and dealing with these issues, and bringing them out into the open. Our pilots welcome recommendations to introduce peer support programmes for pilots across the aviation industry. By encouraging those with mental health problems to seek help, offering them treatment and ensuring they do not suffer financially if they do come forward, we prevent these issues being driven underground.”

“Evidence shows that ‘peer support’ programmes where fellow pilots and family members can report any concerns are the best way to identify and treat an individual. BALPA will continue to work with industry and regulators to see these programmes prioritised and implanted in every airline.”

Sir Simon Wessely, President of the Royal College of Psychiatry, was invited to the BALPA Annual Delegates’ Conference in November 2015 and during his presentation he said, “The prevention of exceptionally rare events is exceptionally difficult and the tendency to over-react is very tempting. But ‘peer support’ is a good system. The key thing to remember, though, is that it must be non-threatening, supportive and part of an environment in which it is perfectly safe to talk about these issues.”

McAuslan concluded, “It is also important for the travelling public to remember that flying is still the safest form of transport. Pilots will work to preserve the culture that has created this safety record including looking ahead to possible new risks.”