Pilot health and wellbeing

As a pilot you're responsible for the lives on board the aircraft. You must have the knowledge and self-awareness to monitor your own performance.

Healthy pilots are critical to aviation safety.

You must address any issues that could affect safe operations. This includes your:

  • technical skills and currency
  • physical wellbeing
  • mental health.

We collaborate with industry bodies dedicated to the wellbeing of Australia’s pilot community. We encourage an environment of trust where you feel comfortable reporting any wellbeing issues. This means you can receive the help and support you need.

We also have resources to help you. We apply a safety-critical approach to health and welfare issues with the goal of maintaining the highest level of safety.

Read this page as well as our information about aviation medicals for pilots and air traffic controllers.

Alcohol and other drugs

Alcohol consumption is widespread in Australia. The Department of Health reports that 1 in 20 Australians have substance use disorders.

It has the greatest effect on aviation safety. But other recreational drugs are becoming more prevalent, bringing a wide range of risks.

Problems with alcohol and other substances don't always mean the end of your aviation career. As a safety regulator, we look for ways to help affected pilots get back in the air. We work with operators and industry bodies to ensure a supported and monitored return to work.

Unreported drinking and substance abuse is too dangerous.

Read our excessive alcohol consumption fact sheet and our information about drug and alcohol management.

Mental health

Depression is more than just a low mood. It's a serious mental illness with mood disorders impacting 1 in 16 Australians according to the Department of Health.

Importantly, research on airplane pilot mental health and suicidal thoughts found that over 12% of pilots met threshold levels for depression.

Depression can impact your:

  • physical health
  • concentration levels
  • alertness
  • reaction time
  • decision-making ability.

For pilots, the hazards of depression could mean the difference between life and death.

Depression is a serious health consideration. However, a diagnosis doesn’t mean the end of your aviation career. Every presentation of depression is different, and we make aeromedical decisions on a case-by-case basis.

We look for stable recovery, even if, in some cases, ongoing medication is required. Some medications are approved; however, others have side-effects that may affect performance while operating an aircraft.

You can read more about our regulatory approach to depression and mental illness in our:

Also see the Department of Health's information about depression.

Help and support

There are non-government organisations that can provide mental health help and support.

  • Beyond Blue have counsellors available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – and their website has useful resources.
  • The Black Dog Institute provides an interactive self-help service, myCompass. It aims to promote resilience and wellbeing for all Australians. They also have information on when and where to get help, support groups, personal stories and videos.
  • MensLine Australia is a telephone and online support, information and referral service. They help men to deal with relationship problems in a practical and effective way.

Also see the Department of Health's healthdirect website for a list of mental health helplines.

Fatigue

You must take steps to manage fatigue, including the possible decision not to fly if you feel that you're unfit as a result of fatigue, or are likely to become so.

There are rules requiring the management of pilot fatigue that better reflect:

  • modern flying conditions
  • scientific understanding of human performance limitations
  • advances in technology.

Also see our information about fatigue management.

Diet

The old adage of ‘you are what you eat’ applies both on the ground and in the air.

The leading cause of pilot incapacitation over the last decade was upset stomachs and food poisoning.

Your diet can have a significant impact on how you feel. Large meals require energy to digest. A full stomach draws blood away from the brain, leaving you feeling tired. Smaller meals, more often, can avoid this effect.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has reviewed pilot incapacitation occurrences between 2012-2014 and produced educational material on the subject.

Also see the Department of Health's advice on healthy eating.

Hydration

The brain is about 80% water. It doesn’t work well if you become dehydrated.

The recommended daily amount of water is around 2 litres per day. More if your work is physically demanding, or in hot conditions.

Certain medications, as well as alcohol and caffeine consumption, can also impact your hydration and performance levels. Flight Safety Australia covered these effects in Dying of Thirst.

Aviation medicine fact sheets and case studies

We have developed a series of fact sheets and case studies to help you understand how certain health conditions could affect aviation safety and your medical certification.

These fact sheets and case studies are available on our Aviation Medicine webpage.

Last updated:
4 Dec 2021
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