Episode 24: Pilot wellbeing

As pilots, we take great care when preparing our aircraft before any flight.

We also dedicate a lot of time to plan the flight before we arrive at the aerodrome. We have scrutinised the weather forecast and briefed our passengers on what to expect on today’s flight.

But have we paid enough attention to another important factor of this whole equation: our own wellbeing?

We are responsible for the lives of all on board and for the safe operation of the flight.

It is also just as important to be able to monitor our own performance. As pilots, we need to make an accurate judgement on our physical and mental health.

Physical health

Issues affecting our physical health fall into many categories. These include:

  • alcohol and other drugs
  • diet
  • hydration
  • fatigue.

Excessive alcohol consumption has a great overall effect on aviation safety.

Recognise if you have an existing alcohol problem and seek help before the problem ends your career.

CASA is continually looking for ways to help affected pilots return to duty. We encourage pilots to be transparent so you can get the best help and support.

There are limitations to human performance and flying an aeroplane requires concentration and alertness.

A pilot who hasn't had enough sleep may not be able to maintain the clarity of mind and situational awareness that flying demands.

Pilot fatigue is a serious issue and has prompted industry professionals to lean towards creating fatigue management plans.

A lot of published research highlights the benefits of a healthy diet and adequate hydration.

What is less well known is the amount of food and the amount of water you consume has an affect on how you feel.

Large meals require energy to digest and a full stomach draws blood away from the brain. This can leave you feeling tired. You can avoid this by having smaller meals more frequently.

The leading cause of pilot incapacitation over the last decade are upset stomachs and food poisoning. As a pilot you need to pay attention to what you eat and drink.

Stock image of person holding head looking dejected
Stock image of person holding head looking dejected

Mental health

Public awareness of mental health has reinforced the need for help and support. One of today's biggest mental health issues is depression.

Depression can affect physical health. In the cockpit this may lead to decreased alertness, reaction time and poor decision-making.

Research around depression has improved the treatment options for people living with mental health issues. Medications today have proved successful in effecting a safe and stable recovery.

Pilots need to assess their own wellbeing and make it part of their preparation.

Know when to take that first step to seek help should you feel something is 'not quite right' a little too often.

You can read more about mental health on our pilot health and wellbeing page.

Published date: 18 October 2022
Online version available at: https://www.casa.gov.au//resources-and-education/education-and-training/out-n-back/episode-24-pilot-wellbeing
Back to top of page