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FAA Publishes Recommendation Report of Mental Health ARC

This week the FAA published the recommendation report of the Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) for Mental Health & Aviation Medical Clearances. EAA was one of 20 voting members of the ARC, which made significant recommendations to the FAA regarding its approach to mental health among pilots, air traffic controllers, and other safety-sensitive personnel. There were also recommendations aimed at how the aviation industry approaches mental health and communicates on the topic.

EAA, as an organization that counsels pilots on aeromedical issues through its staff and volunteer Aeromedical Advisory Council, has noted a growing number of pilots applying for FAA medical certification with mental health diagnoses over the past decade. Oftentimes these cases meet with excessive delays when they reach the Office of Aerospace Medicine. While several FAA policies recently changed in this area, we have been vocal about the need for further reform and welcomed the opportunity to participate in this ARC on behalf of our members. As noted in the ARC report, “In any given year, about 1 in 5 U.S. adults has a diagnosable mental health condition, and more than 50% will experience some occurrence over the course of their lifetimes. Most of these events are not severe, but there is a very real stigma associated with mental health conditions, especially in aviation, which can make it difficult to ask for help.” In addition to stigma, the ARC cited the fear that members of the aviation community feel when it comes to seeking help or reporting a diagnosis. Pilots and controllers are often concerned that disclosure could lead to at least a temporary suspension of their privileges, if not permanent grounding. The ARC’s recommendations, if implemented by the FAA, could do much to mitigate this stigma and fear while both maintaining safety and encouraging pilots to seek treatment. In total, the ARC made 24 recommendations. Some of the most impactful include:

  • Allowing pilots and controllers to pursue psychotherapy without the requirement for disclosure.
  • Reducing the wait time between starting an antidepressant (or changing dosage) to applying for a medical certificate from the current six months to two months for uncomplicated depression and anxiety. Further minimizing evaluation criteria for these and other mental health conditions, granting AMEs more discretion, and allowing a return to duty for the applicant far faster than is typical today.
  • When appropriate, reducing the use of neurocognitive testing in aeromedical certification. While EAA is supportive of the FAA developing a new test that is properly normalized, these tests cause expense and anxiety to countless applicants every year and should be used only in the absence of easier alternatives.
  • Revisiting the FAA’s disqualification of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when treated with medication. Conducting any studies necessary for an informed decision.
  • Once reforms are implemented, creating a non-punitive pathway for pilots and controllers with previously undisclosed diagnoses to disclose to the FAA.

“I am immensely proud of what we were able to accomplish on this ARC,” said Tom Charpentier, EAA government relations director and representative to the committee. “These recommendations, if implemented, will represent enormous progress in an area of policy that has a reputation of being slow to change. I am excited about these recommendations not only as a committee member, but as a pilot.”

EAA will remain involved in this area while the ARC report is considered by the FAA for implementation. Although we are confident this report will be remembered as a milestone, aerospace medicine is an ever-evolving landscape and we will continue to advocate for our members.

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