KARACHI: A pilot lives the dream life. He has a high-paying job that comes with a lot of perks. The lure of flying around the world and the aura that seems to surround the person behind the controls of a jet is something one does not want to part ways with – at any cost.
While the debate continues around Germanwings pilot Andreas Lubitz, who is accused of deliberately crashing a jetliner and killing all 150 people on board, a Pakistani aviation psychologist spoke to The Express Tribune about the need to reform the commercial flying business.
“So, a pilot has a dream life and he is very scared about losing it,” says Naushad Anjum, an airline pilot who is also a member of European Association of Aviation Psychology (EAAP).
In the case of Lubitz, that’s exactly what seemed to have happened, he said.
Germanwings said that its pilot hid the fact that he suffered from depression and was seeking help from various doctors. As per present regulations, it is up to the pilot to voluntarily disclose status of mental health.
“Imagine if a pilot is found to be depressed and the doctor recommends a couple of months of rest. Why would the pilot report that? No private airline pays salary while the pilot isn’t flying.”
While vigorous fitness checks are a regular feature for a pilot, psychiatric evaluation remains a weak area, pilots say.
Anjum suggested that perhaps if the airlines ensure job security backed by an insurance policy, pilots would not have to lie about their condition.
He also says that advance Crew Resource Management (CRM) system should be adopted by airlines. CRM is specifically designed to bring efficiency within the cockpit and among other crew members.
“Advance CRM goes beyond communication and identifies weakness in personalities.”
An MSc in psychology from Preston University Islamabad, Anjum will be completing his M Phil in next couple of weeks.
He is also researching the effects of modern life, especially social media, on mental health of pilots.
“Modern trends have overburdened our minds. It has affected our ability to control anger,” he says.
“Everybody seems to be so happy and perfect on Facebook. When someone suffering from personal issues sees all that, he immediately becomes more depressed.”
Cutting use of social media is not the answer, he says. “We don’t need to isolate ourselves. We need self-discipline, and to modify some of our regulatory procedures.”
Another issue that has surfaced after the Germanwings incident is the discretion of pilots to leave the cockpit. American regulations say that whenever a pilot is alone in a cockpit, someone from the cabin crew like a steward has to be present until the pilot returns.
But European and Asian aviation regulations don’t have any such restriction. “In practice we do follow the guideline. But I think we need to put this in paper too,” he says.