CBS eyes FAA’s exceptional pilot addiction recovery program success-HIMS

Sober Fly?
Share this article: FacebooktwitterlinkedinFacebooktwitterlinkedin

Rehab that puts alcoholic pilots back in the cockpit

ALPA sponsored study which resulted in peer identification and referral

Now the recovery rate of pilots graduates of Hims is exemplary

CBS highlights the success

The image portrayed by the general press of the problem of incapacitated pilots is well captured in the above image (created by FLYING magazine). Even multiple Oscar winning Denzel Washington in Flight  chose the ultimate negative stereotype  in that movie:


Its portrayal of horrifying moments in an airplane will exacerbate that fear of flight. 
What is equally injurious and more disingenuous are the details of the script- a pilot 
high on cocaine and alcohol, an attempted cover up by a union and a flight maneuver.

Good or positive news usually is considered too vanilla or sympathetic or even incredible (particularly when it involves the federal government) to receive media attention.

CBS not only defied that generalization in telling the story of the FAA’s program for pilots with alcohol and/or drug addiction, but the reporter exclaimed, properly:

              "Why aren't you screaming this good news from every rooftop in Washington, D.C.?"

The FAA alumnae, Peggy Gilligan, former FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety:


“That’s a really good question!” she laughed.

Back to the substance of the story. It is called Human Intervention Motivation Study, or HIMS. “And before you panic, consider this: it may be one of the most successful rehab programs ever.”

In the 1970s, the Air Line Pilots Association, funded by the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), initiated this seminal research to assess the best way to deal with alcoholism in the cockpit. The commercial aviation environment was not well suited for a traditional on-the-job supervisory program, and it was believed a recovering pilot’s ability to function effectively was best observed by fellow pilots. [1]

The expert opinion of those professionals was that a peer identification and referral system seemed well suited for developing a pilot-centered, confidential, participatory program. Given the sensitive nature of a pilot’s responsibilities and the interrelationship between medical and technical performance standards, it was apparent that involvement of the airline, the FAA, and peer pilots was essential to the success of the program. Since its inception, over 4,500 professional pilots have been successfully rehabilitated and returned to their careers.

The CBS article traces the recovery of a couple of pilots who successfully worked their way through HIMS. One of the stories involved a captain who consumed 14- 18 rum and cokes, flew, landed, was arrested and was the first commercial pilot to be convicted of flying while intoxicated. he was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison.

“’Our pilots are just like all people; they have some of the same shortcomings that any of us could have,’ said Peggy Gilligan, the former FAA administrator in charge of safety. She says a drinking problem is not necessarily the end of a pilot’s career. ‘There are lots of things that initially might disqualify you from being a pilot, but with proper care and treatment, with proper rehabilitation, you can return to the flight deck,’ she said. And in fact, for decades, the FAA has been doing exactly that: quietly sending pilots diagnosed as substance abusers back to work.

CBS adds this most compelling quote: ’Since the inception of the HIMS program, in the last 43 years there has never been even one, not a single commercial passenger-carrying airline incident or accident, that has been alcohol- or drug-related,Dr. Hankes said. ‘That’s the proof in the pudding.’”


Before HIMS, an addicted cockpit crew member might been ignored by his peers, caught through a drug test/DUI conviction and terminated. The risk of self or peer disclosure was too great—loss of a significant income. Now, the leverage of a good job makes HIMS so successful.


That same motivation, the need to regain one’s career inextricably linked to recovery, is lacking in the general populace and that’s why the success rate outside is not as high as HIMS!






[1] In an admission of ignorance, as evidenced by this article, the author has criticized that it appeared that the primary defense against incapacitated pilots was testing. A better option, it was argued, was direct intervention. HIMS is exactly that and my ignorance is somewhat testament to the lack of adequate publicity about this very well designed program. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. JEM III


Share this article: FacebooktwitterlinkedinFacebooktwitterlinkedin

3 Comments on "CBS eyes FAA’s exceptional pilot addiction recovery program success-HIMS"

  1. I remember the time when there were undercover, secret AA meetings for air crews 20 to 30 years ago. They had to keep their addiction, and recovery, secret. I am happy to see it out in the open. The FAA, and others, have sure changed their stance on this. I am delighted with the change.

  2. Dr. Al Mooney of Willingway Foundation has been sharing this success story with us in the Recovery Africa programs for the past ten years. It’s good to see that the program is receiving the attention that it deserves.

  3. Mr. O’Laughlin thanks for your comment.

Leave a comment