A pilot support programme (sometimes referred to as "Pilot Assistance Program") aims to assist and support flight crew members in recognising, coping with, and overcoming any problem which might negatively affect their ability to safely exercise the privileges of their licence. It provides peer support to fellow pilots, offering referral to professional resources when appropriate, while upholding strict confidentiality and Just Culture principles.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) convened a Task Force after the Germanwings accident in March 2015. Recommendation 6 of the Task Force’s report published on 16 July 2016 (see Further Reading below) stated ‘The Task Force recommends the implementation of pilot support and reporting systems, linked to the employer Safety Management System within the framework of a non-punitive work environment and without compromising Just Culture principles. Requirements should be adapted to different organisation sizes and maturity levels, and provide provisions that take into account the range of work arrangements and contract types’.
A requirement for operators to implement and maintain a pilot support system was introduced through Commission Regulation 2018/1042 of 23 July 2018 (amending Regulation (EU) No 965/2012).
Pilot Support Programmes help pilots to address:
Aviation-related medical issues;
Emotional responses to accidents and incidents;
Drug/alcohol intervention and rehabilitation for job reintegration;
Training and pilot knowledge/skill difficulties;
Professional conduct issues with the company and within the flight deck operations;
Problems and stresses in their personal lives impacting professional performance.
A pilot support programme should contain as a minimum the following elements:
procedures including education of flight crew regarding self-awareness and facilitation of self-referral;
assistance provided by professionals, including mental health professionals with relevant knowledge of the aviation environment and trained peers;
monitoring of the efficiency of the programme;
monitoring and support of the process of returning to work;
management of risks resulting from fear of loss of licence;
a referral system to an aero-medical examiner in clearly defined cases (e.g. medical conditions or safety issues).
A successful pilot support programme can be recognized by the following benchmarks:
Pilot Driven: Although these programmes may involve multiple stakeholders and be multi-participant, they are oﬀered and run by pilots, for pilots with the goal that no harm is done to those they seek to support.
Independence and Autonomy: Pilot peer support programmes act as an independent, autonomous “port-of-call/ safe haven” dedicated to providing peer support to pilots.
Transparency: Pilot peer support programmes need to operate with trust and integrity and deliver clear protocols.
Confdentiality: Confdentiality requires that personal information shared stays within the program regardless of its form or source. All information collected can only be used to provide support to pilots. It is understood that there are limits to confdentiality when safety could be compromised and there needs to be clear protocols for escalation of such cases.