WASHINGTON (AP) — There is little effective, real-world screening of airline pilots for mental problems despite regulations in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere that say mental health should be part of their regular medical exams, pilots and safety experts said.
The crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 into an Alpine mountain, which killed all 150 people aboard, has raised questions about the mental state of the co-pilot. Authorities believe the 27-year-old German deliberately sought to destroy the Airbus A320 as it flew Tuesday from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration requires that pilots receive a physical exam from a flight surgeon annually or every six months depending upon the pilot’s age. The International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency that sets global aviation standards, also requires that pilots receive a periodic medical exam, including a mental assessment.
Technically, doctors are supposed to probe for mental problems, but pilots said that’s usually not how it works.
“There really is no mental health vetting,” said John Gadzinski, a captain with a major U.S. airline and former Navy pilot. In 29 years of physicals from flight surgeons he’s never once been asked about his mental health, he said.
Doug Moss, a Boeing 777 pilot for a major airline, said: “It is a very cursory inspection. If a pilot can just hold a reasonable conversation with a flight surgeon then that generally fulfills his square.”
There also is no confidential reporting, Gadzinski said. “If you had a mental health issue, you certainly wouldn’t tell your flight surgeon about that because it goes right to the FAA,” he said.
A negative mental health evaluation would likely cause the FAA to withdraw the pilot’s medical certificate, which means the pilot would no longer be able to fly.
Pilots are also required to disclose existing psychological conditions and medications on health