Wednesday, May 29, 2024

DGCA Reinforces Mental Health To Aviation Safety

By Staff Correspondent

Flight crew and air traffic control operators (ATCOs) are highly skilled professionals with intelligence, problem-solving abilities, and high personal standards. They train regularly to remain proficient and calm in stressful and unexpected situations. However, the pressures and stressors of the job and personal life can take a toll on mental health, and coping mechanisms that work in other situations may fail in the aviation industry.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has formed an Expert Committee comprising experienced DGCA officers, air safety experts, clinical aerospace medicine specialists, and mental health experts to provide guidance and best practices for mental health promotion among aviation professionals. The committee has identified three areas for intervention: mental health assessments during medical exams, a Peer Support Programme (PSP), and psychological pre-employment evaluations.

The committee has recommended quick and effective methods to assess mental health during the Class 1/2/3 medical examinations, which consist of small questionnaires and interview techniques. Additionally, flight crew and ATCOs will receive customised training from a trained clinical psychologist to recognise and manage the adverse effects of mental health conditions.

Organisations, including scheduled and non-scheduled operators, flight training organisations, and the Airports Authority of India (AAI), are advised to introduce a non-punitive Peer Support Programme that helps aviation professionals recognise, cope with, and overcome any problems that might affect their ability to safely perform their duties. The programme will be handled in a non-stigmatising and safe environment, and peers will be supported by mental health professionals.

The committee recommends that mental health promotion be embedded within the Safety Management System (SMS) of the Air Operator Certificate holder or the Airports Authority of India (for ATCOs), subject to maintaining confidentiality.

Pre-employment psychological assessments are also recommended to help aviation professionals perform their best in their organisations’ environments. The evaluation should identify safety-critical dimensions related to their role and function within the organisation and include assessment criteria for domain knowledge, skills and abilities through cognitive tests, personality traits known to be predictors of performance, and a passion for flying or air traffic control. The assessment tools should be validated and overseen by a clinical psychologist with aviation knowledge relevant to the operating environment.

Whenever there are concerns about the mental state of a flight crew or ATCO that could affect their performance and ability to operate safely, a detailed clinical mental health assessment must be undertaken at an Indian Air Force Boarding Centre. The organisation will refer the case to DGCA Medical Directorate for permission for a ‘Special’ medical examination. The committee’s recommendations will assist aviation professionals in addressing mental health concerns and maintaining their ability to perform their duties safely and effectively.

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