What is the issue?

The medical fitness of aircrew – both physical and mental – has come into the spotlight after the tragic Germanwings flight 4U9525, in March 2015. While air crews’ physical health is being assessed every year, the mental health and psychosocial stress factors and their potential impact on the crews’ medical fitness have so far been less in the focus. The Germanwings event, however, showed that it deserves adequate attention from regulators, airlines and air crews. This is to ensure that mental health issues of individuals do not over time develop into a problem that ultimately could affect negatively the safety of the operation and the passengers on board – and to make a ‘Germanwings scenario’ less likely in future.

How is ECA involved?

ECA has been actively involved right from the beginning. In fact, even before the final accident investigation report had been issued, the European Aviation safety Agency (EASA) convened a small group of experts from the aviation sector. This group included also aeromedical doctors and aviation psychologists, and identified a number of possible ways to mitigate safety risks related to the crews’ medical fitness. ECA was part of this group and contributed to the recommendation made by EASA in 2015 and the related wider issues that need attention.

ECA also actively contributed to the various stakeholder consultation on EASA Concept Papers, rule-making task Terms of Reference, draft Operational Directives and draft regulatory material, as well as participating at EASA aircrew medical fitness workshops in 2015 and 2016, and in dedicated technical meetings organized by the Agency. ECA also entered into a fruitful cooperation with the European Society of Aerospace Medicine (ESAM) and the European Association for Aviation Psychology (EAAP) on issues like AME-Pilot relationship, strengthening the trust relationship between the AME and pilot and on the wider aspects related to psycho-social stress factors on pilots' mental and physical fitness.

Why is the issue important to ECA?

Aircrew medical fitness directly affects pilots and their ability to operate safely and to have a long and healthy professional career. Anything that improves this ability is welcome and supported. This in particular, when it is about PREVENTION of physical or mental problems that could negatively affect the pilots' performance, health and safety. This is why ECA actively promotes ‘Peer Support Programmes’ (PSP), run by pilots for pilots and with the help of medical, psychological and other professionals. Such PSP have proven effective in many airlines across Europe and the globe in helping crew members to seek and obtain help – or their colleagues to refer them to such a PSP. The aim of such PSP is to support as many pilots as possible, to guide them to adequate advice, treatment or counseling, and to ensure they will ultimately be able to return to the flight-deck, where possible. ECA considers that a genuine PSP should be available to each and every pilot across Europe, independently of where s/he is based and which airline s/he/ flies for.