In July 2018, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued Regulation (EU) 2018/1042, now (EU) 2020/745, which requires all Commercial Air Transport (CAT) operators to implement a Support Programme (SP), which should include the use of trained peers, by 14 February 2021. The SP was a recommendation initiated by EASA Task Force following safety concerns related to flight crew wellbeing. The purpose of the SP is to create flight crew support and reporting system concerning their psychological wellbeing.
Peer Volunteers are central to a Support Programme, designed to help flight crew overcome any problems which might negatively affect their ability to exercise their licence safely. So how do we determine and equip peer volunteers to make them confident in their role?
The role of a Peer is demanding, and peers can have a huge positive impact on colleagues and their families. With this in mind, volunteers should usually undergo a selection procedure to ensure they are suited to the role. This entails an interview with a clinical psychologist and others (this may be experienced peer, responsible person from the operator, or the third party provider).
What skills should peers have?
The critical element of peer support is to listen to the person who is using the programme and allow them to arrive to their own solution to the problem. Peers must be good listeners in non-judgmental fashion and avoid offering solutions. They must be approachable and trustworthy, while confidentiality is absolute.
Peer volunteers would normally be flight crew themselves or have an understanding of the flying environment and the related stresses and challenges of the job. Pilots or flight crew are reluctant to talk about their health and wellbeing, especially mental health, to anyone and sometimes not even to their partners due to fear from losing a licence, livelihood and prestige. However, there is a tendency that they will talk to fellow aviators who share the same experience, stressors and understand life in the cockpit.
Peers can be from the same or a different organisation as those who use the programme. Still, there should be representation from all areas of the flying community with a diversity of characteristics, e.g., age, fleet, gender, background. The aim is to train a cohort of peers proportionate to the task.
Training for peers
Peer volunteers must be fully trained by the time programme launches. Once they complete initial training, they should be supervised by an appropriate mental health professional and should have access to support from a clinical psychologist, preferably one who understands aviation, before they are used in a Support Programme. They must receive not only initial training but also Continual Professional Development training to enhance and broaden their experience and knowledge continuously.
How we can support organisations
To support organisations with training for peer volunteers, we have developed a dedicated Pilot Peer training course. For more information please visit the course webpage or email our training team; firstname.lastname@example.org.
To support the Commercial Air Transport operators with implementation of the Support Programme, we have developed a Support Programme Guidance. To download a free copy, please click below.