Tags: Schiavo | Germanwings | pilot | mental

Former DOT IG Mary Schiavo Discusses Pilots' Mental Health

By    |   Wednesday, 01 Apr 2015 07:56 AM

With the apparent suicide crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the Swiss Alps on March 24, it was refreshing to find the appearance of former U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General Mary Schiavo on C-SPAN's Washington Journal on March 31.

Inspectors General as a class are probably the most useful people in the federal government, and Schiavo was always one who could be counted on to bring clarity and sanity to a quirky industry that is an important cog in the economy and one that is of great interest to Congress because the legislators depend on it to travel back to their districts every week and wherever else the job may take them, putting their lives in the hands of unmet pilots.

The book Schiavo wrote after she left DOT was appropriately called Flying Blind, Flying Safe, a muckraking report on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). She has also criticized the work of the 9/11 Commission, which also involved a suicide air crash.

She was interviewed from picturesque Charleston, S.C. by host John McArdle, who asked for her comment on last week's crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 and "how [travelers] can trust that mental health issues are looked into before they get on a plane and walk past the cockpit."

Schiavo characteristically responded candidly that, "Unfortunately for passengers, there really isn't much of a way for any of them to check or to have the level of trust." She told of being in London when the Germanwings crash occurred, and she said that both the pilot and co-pilot of her Delta flight came out of the cockpit before takeoff to mingle with passengers, evidently realizing that the passengers were nervous, and there has been reports of passengers getting off of planes in the days immediately after the Germanwings crash, and the airlines know that passengers can't check on the health of the pilots or even on the condition of the planes, and she quipped, "The airlines are sensitive to that — at least, this week."

McArdle posted an article from USA Today about a report that the co-pilot had been treated for suicidal tendencies, but "the airline didn't get the word," and he asked what the rules are for reporting such issues as they would apply to pilots and to the doctors who treat pilots.

Schiavo said that the rules in the EU and U.S. are similar in that they both rely on self-reporting. First, pilots are supposed to have training and 1,500 hours of flying, which she noted was about three times what the Germanwings co-pilot had, and they also have to have a medical certificate from a flight doctor that is based in part on a questionnaire developed by the FAA and the International Civil Aviation Organization, an agency of the United Nations.

One of the questions on the questionnaire asks about mental health issues, but the legend on the form states that no psychological or blood tests are to be done. She stressed that, "It's up to the pilot to flag the issues; there's no independent investigation, there's no independent testing."

McArdle asked whether practices were changing in light of this latest disaster, and Schiavo replied, "I'd like to say yes, but I kind of doubt it. I know that probably comes as a shock or a disappointment to people." The result of past problems was to improve the security of the cockpit doors and decree that no one could be in the cockpit alone, and she thinks it would have prevented the 9525 crash.

(Archived video can be found here.)

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Robert-Feinberg
With the apparent suicide crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the Swiss Alps on March 24, it was refreshing to find the appearance of former U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General Mary Schiavo on C-SPAN's Washington Journal on March 31.
Schiavo, Germanwings, pilot, mental
595
2015-56-01
Wednesday, 01 Apr 2015 07:56 AM
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