Pilots Who Suffer From Depression Maybe Able To Fly Under FAA Proposal
By Bill Goldston
April 5, 2010 -
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on Friday that it
will consider the special issuance of a medical certificate to pilots
who are taking medication for mild to moderate depression, conditions
that now bar them from all flying duties.
On a case-by-case
basis beginning April 5, pilots who take one of four antidepressant
medications – Fluoxetine (Prozac), Sertraline (Zoloft), Citalopram (Celexa),
or Escitalopram (Lexapro) – will be allowed to fly if they have been
satisfactorily treated on the medication for at least 12 months. The FAA
will not take civil enforcement action against pilots who take advantage
of a six-month opportunity to share any previously non-disclosed
diagnosis of depression or the use of these antidepressants.
“I’m encouraging pilots who are suffering from depression or using
antidepressants to report their medical condition to the FAA,” said FAA
Administrator Randy Babbitt. “We need to change the culture and remove
the stigma associated with depression. Pilots
should be able to get the medical treatment they need so they can safely
perform their duties.”
The FAA’s policy is consistent with recommendations from the Aerospace
Medical Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Air Line
Pilots Association and the International Civil Aviation Organization.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Australia, Transport
Psychiatrists and Aviation Medical Examiners who have specialized
training under the Human Intervention and Motivation Study (HIMS)
program will help the FAA evaluate and monitor pilots under this new
policy. The HIMS program was established 40 years ago and has been
highly effective for the assessment, treatment, and medical
certification of pilots who need help with alcohol and drug issues.
Why does this policy only deal with four types of antidepressant medications?
community has data that shows that these medications can be safely used
to treat mild-to-moderate depression.
Isn't it still
possible that, if a pilot is on another antidepressant medication not
listed here, they are still going to be forced to hide their condition
or just not seek treatment out of fear of losing their pilot's
will be considered in the future as we gain experience and data under
our new policy. Pilots are legally obligated to be truthful regarding
their health during their FAA physical examination. The responsibility
to be truthful belongs to the pilot.
What action does
the FAA take when pilots either disclose they are being treated for
depression or request treatment?
A pilot will be
grounded until all symptoms of the psychiatric condition being treated
are improved by the single medication and the pilot is stable for 12
months. The FAA requires:
1. A consultation status report (and follow-up reports as required) from a treating psychiatrist attesting to and describing the pilot's diagnosis, length and course of treatment, dosage of the antidepressant medication taken, and any side effects from the antidepressant the applicant takes or has taken in the past.
2. A written statement prepared by the pilot describing his or her history of antidepressant use and mental health status.
3. A report of the results of neurocognitive psychological tests.
4. An evaluation
and written report from a Human Intervention and Motivation Study
(HIMS)-trained Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) who has reviewed the
above items and recommends a special-issuance medical certificate.
How long will a
pilot be grounded?
For pilots who are
beginning treatment with antidepressants, they will be unable to fly for
one year. For those pilots who either take advantage of the six-month
reporting period or have stopped flying and have a medical history of
successful treatment, those pilots should be able to fly within a few
How many extra
exams will a pilot have to go through if he chooses to disclose that he
The pilot will be
on a special issuance (waiver) as long as he or she is on medication.
The pilot will need to be seen at least annually by a HIMS AME, more if
the AME determines that additional visits are warranted. The pilot will
need to see a psychiatrist every six months.
What does the FAA
do if a pilot discloses that he or she is consulting a therapist (e.g.,
for anxiety) but there is no clinical diagnosis of depression?
A pilot will not
be allowed to fly while undergoing treatment. Once the treatment is
complete, the pilot may return to flying.
How do you know that an airline will not take adverse action against a pilot who takes antidepressants?
If a pilot
receives a special issuance medical certificate from the FAA, then we
expect the airline to treat that pilot as they would with any other
medical waiver case.
Is a pilot
required to report psychotherapy received under an Employee Assistance
What kind of
safeguards does the FAA have in place now to ensure that pilots who are
dealing with mental illness get help? Do you rely on annual exams or a
co-worker pointing it out?
Pilots have a
regulatory duty and professional responsibility to not fly if they know
(or should know) that they have a physical or mental condition that may
make them unsafe to fly. We depend on the honesty of pilots, their
family, friends and co-workers, to get pilots the help they need. The
regular FAA physical examination is a critical mechanism for ensuring
that a pilot is healthy, and for identifying pilots with potentially
disqualifying medical conditions.
How many pilots do
you estimate suffer from depression?
Generally, 10% of
the population is thought to have some type of depressive symptoms. Not
all depressions are the same, and not all require treatment with
medications. Pilots are a subset of the general population.
How many pilots have lost their certificates for coming forward and saying they're depressed or because it was discovered they were lying about their condition?
Within the past
six years, the Office of Aerospace Medicine has not referred any cases
for revocation of a medical certificate based solely the fact that a
pilot intentionally withheld information about a diagnosis of
Why does the FAA
consider depression a safety hazard?
lead to distraction and make it difficult for a pilot to focus.
Then shouldn't the traveling public feel unsafe if their pilot is on anti-depressants?
The public should feel safe with this program. It was designed to allow only well-treated and stable pilots to fly. The pilots will be well monitored, with multiple layers of safeguards.
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