FAA won't test pilots for mental health issues

FAA won't test pilots for mental health issues

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will not require airline pilots to be tested for psychological disorders but will instead encourage voluntary reporting and treatment of mental health issues, the agency announced Thursday.

The FAA outlined a series of steps it is taking to improve mental health evaluations among commercial pilots. Instead of requiring psychological testing, the agency will embrace a more “holistic approach” that focuses on education, outreach and training.

The announcement comes over a year after a Germanwings pilot who was treated for suicidal tendencies deliberately flew a plane into a mountainside, killing everyone on board.

An industry advisory committee convened in May 2015 did not recommend the FAA require routine psychological testing for pilots because it found no concrete evidence that would improve safety. Such testing only provides a snapshot of a pilot's mental health history and does not accurately predict whether a pilot is likely to suffer problems in the future, the committee concluded.

“U.S. commercial pilots undergo vigorous and regular medical screening,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “While some conditions automatically disqualify someone from flying, many pilots have treatable conditions. We need to do more to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness in the aviation industry so pilots are more likely to self-report, get treated, and return to work.”

Currently, psychological testing is not required for airline pilots, but they are routinely evaluated for stress and physical conditions. Several airlines already have reporting and monitoring programs that provide a path for pilots to report psychological conditions, get treated and return to work once the FAA determines it is safe to do so.

The FAA said it is pursuing a number of actions to encourage greater voluntary self-reporting by pilots, based on recommendations from the advisory committee.

Those steps include enhancing training for aviation medical examiners so they can better spot mental health warning signs, issuing guidance to airlines to promote best practices about pilot support programs and expanding pilot-assistance programs.