“The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine,” was penned by 3rd century Greek philosopher Sextus Empiricus. His wisdom applies to regulatory processes today. The below article is an example of the value of thoughtful consideration rather than expedited action.
In response to the apparent suicide by the second officer of the Germanwings crash, European Transport Commissioner Ms. Violeta Bulc tasked EASA to respond to this tragedy. The Task Force issued their report in July recommending random drug and alcohol testing, enforcement of the principle of two pilots in the cockpit at all times, a “robust” program of oversight for medical examiners, the creation of a European aeromedical data repository and implementation of a pilot support system within airlines.
The FAA Administrator on May 15, 2015 issued a Charter for a Pilot Fitness Aviation Rulemaking Committee. That group has not yet publically issued any recommendations.
The EASA work has flaws and some of those problems may have been the product of trying to respond quickly. The below article explains the criticisms and concerns of some experts who recently attended a safety symposium.
First, they disagreed with the EASA endorsement of the “two persons in a cockpit” rule. Robert Bor, a consultant psychologist at the Royal Free Hospital had studied past situations in which a pilot’s effort to commit suicide was involved. That review found that “the second person was not always able to take charge of the controls from his/ her colleague.” He explained that the EASA findings may have been hasty and strongly urged that more research be devoted to cabin crew strategies which might be more effective.
Another member of the symposium, Philip Baum, managing director at security training company Green Light Ltd, also found fault with the quick report. He said that it appeared that the European Task Force relied on common sense development of answers, particularly the two pilot rule, showed “a severe lack of judgement.”
Bor also saw deficiencies in the suggestions “to enhance psychological assessment for new pilots, involving a databank that contains detailed information about checkups, and better support networks.” Those actions signal stigma. Instead the regulators and the airlines should exhibit more understanding of pilot mental health. The governments, management and the cabin peers should adopt “a culture of acceptance” as opposed to finding fault.
Similarly, other psychological issues like anxiety, relationship stresses, sleep and financial burdens should be dealt with positively and proactively, not shame. The psychologist urged a holistic tactic by saying, “Pilots are not naive to their own mental stresses…They need to be part of the effort to make the skies safer.”
A common refrain in Washington is that the FAA takes too long to articulate solutions. Maybe Sextus Empiricus would label them as fine grinders. Clearly there is more to be considered in creating a safety net for pilots’ psyche.