Pilot Mental Health: Mum’s the Word!

4 min read

We may never see real change to the stigma surrounding pilots’ mental health; unless…

Why is this important: There are serious disincentives which if not removed will keep pilots from comfortably coming forward to talk more about any mental challenges they may have. These disincentives act like barriers. We discussed some of these in our article Let’s Talk Pilots’ Mental Health. Fortunately, there are ways to remove these barriers for those pilots who need help. Here are some suggestions:

  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should give pilots with mental health issues the assurance that they will not be summarily sidelined by adjusting policies surrounding medical certification and provide guidance to airlines on how to handle these unique situations.
  • The airlines themselves will need to do more with the support of the FAA to help those pilots who are having mental health issues to come forward in ways that will not make them believe that it could affect their careers.
  • Finally, there needs to be a joint campaign between the FAA and airlines to help the public understand more about pilot mental health, helping the public to mitigate any stigmas or fears that it may have.

Get Involved: Do you believe the FAA should do more to help pilots suffering from mental health issues? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

The average pilot is more concerned about maintaining good standing with the FAA as it relates to their medical certificate above all other things.

  • The above concern is not without merit. Without a medical certificate, a pilot cannot operate for compensation. In airlines, the medical certificate that’s required is at the highest class – the first-class medical certificate.
  • The requirements for obtaining a first-class medical certificate are much more stringent than for example, the lowest medical certificate – the third-class medical certificate, and greater still than the quasi-certificate – BasicMed.
  • The problem is that the FAA, through its flight standards district offices (FSDOs), can sometimes be very tough on pilots who have issues that could affect their medical certificates. Pilots are aware that any issues that are deemed by the FAA to make a pilot ineligible for a medical certification potentially mean an end to their careers. What needs to happen here is that the FAA needs to look at policies that can provide better guidance and clarity on medical issues that can be addressed without summarily revoking medical certificates, giving pilots the peace of mind to come forth with mental health issues and have them corrected without believing that by even mentioning their mental health, it will be the end of their careers.

On Aviation™ Note: We always like to make it clear that it’s only a small fraction of pilots within the airlines or aviation, in general, that would be susceptible to mental health issues – based on our research.

Airlines can do more to foster an environment that allows pilots to come forward more frequently to discuss mental challenges that they might have.

  • There’s no doubt that pilots are extremely important to the airline industry and the airlines themselves. We believe that airlines have been working to support their pilots where they can legally from a regulatory standpoint. However, there is room for improvement in this area.
  • By creating and enforcing specific company policies to deal with pilot mental health that are geared around understanding and assurance that information shared by pilots with the respective airline through the appropriate channels, that this information will not be used against the pilots. Even the mere perception that this could be used against pilots will prevent them from utilizing these support facilities.
  • It might be best for airlines to do this in conjunction with support from the FAA, since not following certain reporting requirements the airlines may find themselves violating some FAA regulations.

On Aviation™ Note: We believe the airlines have been doing their part to help pilots with mental health issues, along with a host of other challenges that pilots face due to the nature of their work. However, due to the nature of this challenge, more needs to be done.

The flying public needs a thorough understanding of the problem, and what it means for them as well.

  • Truth be told, the average air traveler does not want to hear that their pilot could be suffering from mental health issues. This further exacerbates the stigma surrounding mental health, particularly from the perspective of the public.
  • We recommend a joint campaign between the FAA and airlines to educate the public about what pilot mental health is, and what is being done to help pilots in need of help.
  • Most importantly, assures the public that the FAA and airlines are doing their best to ensure that pilot mental health is being taken very seriously and that at this time there is no need for alarm concerning the safety of the vast majority of flights.

On Aviation™ Note: By making the discussion about pilot mental health more public we remove the stigma surrounding it and provide some assurance to the flying public that the situation is being handled in the best way possible while putting safety at the forefront.


For many people, this topic is a topic that they would much rather not discuss because it creates a lot of fear and uncertainty. Pilots themselves, face the brunt of this fear and uncertainty due to the potential of losing their careers if they do have an issue that is not perceived properly by the authorities. For the airlines, the issue is trying to support and help their pilots without violating FAA regulations. For the flying public, it is about getting the assurance that we can take care of those who need help while maintaining the highest safety standards within the airlines. Yet, the impetus must begin with the regulator, the FAA. If we can start with the simple recommendations in this article, I believe will be on a great start to addressing this problem now, and well into the future.

Thank you for reading this week’s On Aviation™ full article. Do you believe the FAA should do more to help pilots suffering from mental health issues? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Remember to check out our On Aviation™ Podcast and continue the conversation on our Twitter and Instagram.

Orlando – On Aviation™

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