Airplane pilots ask for support with depression, addiction

A KLM pilot waving before takeoff (Photo: Maarten Visser/Wikimedia Commons)A KLM pilot waving before takeoff (Photo: Maarten Visser/Wikimedia Commons)

The association of Dutch pilots VNV is calling for peer-operated self-help groups to help pilots suffering from depression or battling with addiction, ANP reports.

This follows a report by the French safety board regarding the Germanwings plane crash last year. Co-pilot Ernst Lubitz deliberately crashed the plane. According to the report, he showed sumptoms indicating psychotic depression for some time and previously visited several doctors, but none of them warned the aviation authorities.

The French safety board therefore believes that international regulations are necessary in cases where the health of a patient could cause a risk for public safety. In the case of pilots, this would mean that medical confidentially will have to be breached.

The Dutch pilots think that this is a bad idea. They fear that it will only result in pilots keeping their depression or addiction a secret, for fear of losing their jobs. When asked about psychological complaints, pilots will simply give socially desirable responses to keep their jobs.

The VNV states that since the 70's they've had good experiences in helping members suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction through self help groups operated by their peers. In most cases they overcame their addiction. This same format can be used to help pilots struggling with psychological problems. "It is important for a pilot that he dares to seek help and may return to his job after a successful treatment", a spokesperson for the association said to the news wire.

The VNV expects to soon reach an agreement on this with the airlines and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environments. The VNV represents some 5 thousand Dutch pilots.