To ensure mental well-being of flight crew and air traffic controllers, civil aviation watchdog DGCA has proposed various measures, including mental health assessment during the medical assessments and peer support programme.
A circular has been issued to airlines and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to put in place the necessary provisions to implement the recommendations, a senior DGCA official said on Wednesday.
Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs) come under AAI.
Amid concerns about the mental health of flight crew and ATCOs, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) set up an expert panel.
The panel identified three major domains where measures can be taken. They are ”mental health assessment during the medical assessments, Peer Support Programme (PSP), and pre-employment psychological assessment,” the DGCA said in a release.
The expert panel comprised experienced DGCA officers, air safety, clinical aerospace medicine and mental health experts (psychologists).
The aim was to ”provide best practices and guidance for operators and stakeholders in the field of mental health promotion,” the release said.
According to the DGCA official, the circular will come into effect from May 31.
The panel has also recommended some quick and effective methods to assess mental health that can easily be performed by the DGCA-empanelled medical examiners during the medical examination.
”These testing instruments consist of small questionnaires and interview techniques only. Hence, they will not substantially impact the current medical examination process for the licence holders as well as the medical examiners.
”A separate, standalone and customised training by a trained clinical psychologist for the flight crew/ATCOs to recognise and manage the adverse effects of mental health conditions has (also) been recommended,” the release said.
The DGCA has asked scheduled and non-scheduled operators, the AAI and the Flying Training Organisations (FTOs) to introduce a PSP for their employees.
”This proactive and non-punitive programme will assist and support flight crew/ATCOs in recognising, coping with and overcoming any problem, which might negatively affect their ability to safely exercise the privileges of their licence… The peers involved in the programme shall be supported by a mental health professional,” the release said.
According to the release, it is recommended that mental health promotion be embedded within the Safety Management System (SMS) of the AOP holder/AAI (for ATCOs), subject to the maintenance of confidentiality.
Another recommendation is that each organisation may have its own customised ‘psychological assessment’ process using validated and reliable tools to match their organisational requirements and the available resources.
The pre-employment psychological assessment should be able to identify the safety-critical dimensions related to their function and role within the operator and should include at least the assessment criteria for the domain knowledge, skills and abilities through cognitive tests.
”The psychological assessment tools should be validated and performed or overseen by a clinical psychologist with acquired knowledge in aviation relevant to the operating environment.
”It should be undertaken at least within the past 24 months before commencing line flying or ATCO duties unless the operator can demonstrate that the psychological assessment undertaken more than 24 months ago is still adequate for the risk mitigation,” the release said.
Further, the DGCA said whenever there are concerns regarding the mental state of a flight crew or ATCO, 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 special medical examination,” it added.