It goes without saying that healthy pilots are critical to aviation safety. They are responsible for the lives on board their aircraft, so must have the knowledge and self-awareness to monitor their own performance; addressing any issues that could affect safe operations. This includes the obvious technical skills and currency, as well as general wellbeing - physical and mental health.
We are collaborating with industry bodies dedicated to furthering the wellbeing of Australia’s pilot community. We encourage an environment of trust where pilots feel comfortable reporting any wellbeing issues, so they can receive the help and support they need.
We also have various resources to assist pilots, and other safety-critical personnel approach a range of health and welfare issues with the goal of maintaining the highest level of safety.
Alcohol and other drugs
Alcohol is the favourite mind-altering drug in our society, and the one with the greatest overall effect on aviation safety. However, other recreational drugs are becoming more prevalent, bringing a wide range of additional risks.
Problems with alcohol and other substances do not necessarily mean the end of your aviation career. As a safety regulator, we are continually looking for ways to help affected pilots get back in the air, by working with operators and industry bodies to ensure a supported and monitored return to work through transparency, cooperation and coordination.
The alternative-unreported drinking and substance abuse-is simply too dangerous.
The Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS) is a new program for members of Australia’s aviation community, aimed at helping anyone whose use of alcohol or other drugs is of concern. A cornerstone of HIMS is the understanding that substance dependence is a treatable medical condition, and is modelled on well-established overseas programmes that have assisted thousands of pilots return to work.
While we all feel sad, moody or low from time to time, some people experience these feelings intensely, for long periods (weeks, months or even years) and without any apparent reason. Depression is more than just a low mood-it's a serious mental illness that impacts physical health, affecting your concentration levels, alertness, reaction time and decision-making ability.
Needless to say, for pilots, the hazards of depression could mean the simple difference between life and death.
While depression is a serious health consideration, being diagnosed doesn’t mean the end of your aviation career. Every case of depression is different and CASA makes aeromedical decisions on a case-by-case basis. CASA is looking for good stable recovery, and even if in some cases ongoing medication is required. Some medications are approved, others have side-effects which may affect performance in their own right.
You can read more about our regulatory approach to depression and mental illness in our depression and aviation safety fact sheet, in Flight Safety Australia’s ‘Flying beyond the blue’, or contact our AvMed Section if you have further questions.
Help and support
There are also non-government organisations that can provide help and support in the areas of mental health. These include, but are not limited to:
- beyondblue - seeking help and getting support is essential in treating depression and anxiety. Last year, beyondblue had more than 78,000 calls from Australians about mental health concerns or issues. They are available to talk and listen, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Beyondblue’s website also contains useful resources (including people’s personal experiences of depression) and information on current initiatives -1300 22 4636.
- The Black Dog Institute - website contains information on when and where to get help, support groups, personal stories and videos. The Institute also provides an interactive self-help service, myCompass, which aims to promote resilience and wellbeing for all Australians.
- MensLine Australia - A telephone and online support, information and referral service, helping men to deal with relationship problems in a practical and effective way -1300 78 99 78.
Pilots must take steps to manage fatigue, including the possible decision not to fly if they feel that they are unfit as a result of fatigue, or are likely to become so.
We’re currently in the process of introducing new rules requiring the management of pilot fatigue that better reflect modern flying conditions, scientific understanding of human performance limitations and advances in technology.
More information can be found on our fatigue management page.
The old adage of ‘you are what you eat’ applies both on the ground and in the air. In fact, the leading cause of pilot incapacitation over the last decade wasn’t laser pointer strikes, fatigue or hypoxia - it was upset stomachs and food poisoning.
More generally, your diet can have a significant impact on how you feel. Large meals require energy to digest and 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.
Did you know your brain is about 80 per cent water? It doesn’t work well if you become dehydrated. The recommended daily amount is around two 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 recently 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 pilots understand how certain health conditions could affect aviation safety and their medical certification.
These fact sheets and case studies are available on our Aviation Medicine webpage.
You can contact our Aviation Medical section for more information via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phoning 1300 4 AVMED or 1300 4 28633.