DGCA recommends measures for mental health promotion of flight crew, ATCOs

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New Delhi, Feb 22 (IANS) Keeping in view the fact that stress-related issues can negatively impact professional performance of flight crews and Air Traffic Controllers, aviation regulator DGCA has proposed some recommendations including Peer Support Programme and Pre-Employment Psychological Assessment.

The regulator is of the view that the pressures and stressors at workplace and personal life routinely cannot be addressed through these professional skills, procedures or knowledge.

“Stress coping mechanisms, often adopted as a normal human being, may fail in the demanding environs of aviation. Any perceived or real failure to cope with the stressors can have dramatic effects on their mental wellbeing and can negatively impair their professional performance,” it said.

These concerns about the mental health of flight crew and ATCOs led to the formation an ‘Expert Committee’ at DGCA of experienced DGCA officers, air safety, clinical aerospace medicine and mental health experts (psychologists), with an aim to provide best practices and guidance for operators and stakeholders in the field of mental health promotion.

Three major domains were identified where the interventions were recommended including mental health assessment during the medical assessments, Peer Support Programme (PSP), and pre-employment psychological assessment.

A separate, standalone and customised training by a trained clinical psychologist for the flight crew and ATCOs to recognise and manage the adverse effects of mental health conditions has been recommended.

The basic elements of the Peer Support Programme include trust between management and crew, education of flight crew/ATCOs regarding self-awareness and facilitation of self-referral, assistance provided by professionals, defining the process of ‘returning to duty’ and management of barriers resulting from fear of loss of licence, referral system to DGCA Medical Directorate and defining the initial and recurrent training of the peers.

It is recommended that the mental health promotion be embedded within the Safety Management System (SMS) of the AOP holder/AAI (for ATCOs), subject to maintenance of confidentiality, said the regulator.

Under Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry Evaluation, it has been said that whenever, there arises concerns regarding the mental state of a flight crew or ATCO that has direct or indirect effect on his or her performance and ability to operate safely (such as after an incident or accident or as assessed by the peer support programme), a detailed clinical mental health assessment needs to be undertaken at one of the Indian Air Force Boarding Centres. Such cases shall be referred by the organisation to DGCA Medical Directorate for permission for a ‘Special’ medical examination.

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