In July 2018, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a regulation (EU) 2018/1042, now (EU) 2020/745, which requires all Commercial Air Transport (CAT) operators to implement 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 a flight crew support and reporting system concerning their psychological wellbeing.
Evidence from existing support programmes in the United Kingdom and abroad has shown that around 85-95% of pilots will get their wellbeing questions addressed within a peer assistance programme satisfactorily without the need for further help*.
So why is the role of peers so significant?
What is Peer Support?
Peer support is a structure whereby a flight crew can get confidential help with mental wellbeing or life stress issues. At the heart of this support are Peers, usually ordinary flight crew members who are trained in basic listening and coaching skills and can assist their colleagues in addressing their problems. These Peers are trained and supported by a suitable qualified Mental Health Professional, a clinical psychologist who is ideally aviation savvy. The aim is to provide the flight crew with an opportunity to discuss, resolve or maintain their wellbeing in a confidential and trusted environment.
Why is the role of peers significant?
Research suggests 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 the fear of losing a licence, livelihood and status. However, there is a tendency that they will talk to fellow aviators who share the same experience, stressors and understand life in the cockpit. Therefore, the concept of using peers is a key element within the support programme.
Evidence from pre-existing peer support programmes
The concept of peer support is not new. The first Peer Assistance Network (PAN) was established by AIPA (Australian and International Pilots Association formed to represent Qantas and its related companies pilots and flight engineers) in 1991 to handle the emotional fallout of the 1989 industrial action. Project Wingman by American Airlines in 2011, represents 15,000 pilots and handles thousands of calls a year.
Evidence from pre-existing peer support programmes has demonstrated that when a programme is effectively implemented, aircrew seeking support have less chance of harmful outcomes when dealing with the stressors and anxiety of life influencing events. This supports swifter returns to active duty work, organisational safety management systems by earlier identification and assistance of issues and, when appropriate, dissuasion from active duty when flight safety is at risk.
* RAeS Flightcrew Mental Health Conference May 2019. Capt D Fielding
How we can support organisations
To support organisations with introduction of a Peer Assistance programme, 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 Commercial Air Transport operators with implementation of Support Programme we have developed a Support Programme Guide. To download a free copy, please click below.