30 Mar 2015

Pilots' union to bolster mental health support

7:27 pm on 30 March 2015

Following the death of 150 people in a crash in the French Alps, the Civil Aviation Authority is reviewing how it assesses and supports pilots' mental health during their routine medical assessments.

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Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Investigators believe the incident in the alps took place after the co-pilot deliberately crashed the plane.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards Photo: SUPPLIED

The New Zealand Airline Pilots' Association has approved a programme which will use trained volunteer psychologists to recognise and support mental health issues.

The association's medical and welfare director, Captain Herwin Bongers, said they want mental health to be regarded in the same light as physical health.

Captain Bongers said that, with mental illness in society trending up, advice and support were an important precaution.

He said that, though the programme had been in the works for about a year, it had been signed off recently in light of the recent events.

He expressed concern that pilots with mental illness may not want to tell their employer for fear of losing their licence, but said that punishing people with mental illness drives the subject underground, which could lead to a repeat of the tragedy.

Privacy not an impediment to safety

The Privacy Commissioner said New Zealand's Privacy Act did not prevent doctors passing on concerns about pilots' mental or physical health to authorities.

John Edwards said doctors in New Zealand were obliged to tell aviation authorities if a pilot had a medical condition that affected their ability to fly a plane.

He said it was legal to disclose someone's personal information without their consent, if done to avoid a serious threat.

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