Up Close: NTSB Looks To Address Mental Health Issues Among Airline Workers

The National Transportation Safety Board hosted a summit on Wednesday to talk about barriers that sometimes keep pilots and airline workers from seeking mental health treatment. Skyler Henry with CBS News joined News On 6 with more on what aviation and health experts had to say.

Wednesday, December 6th 2023, 4:10 pm

By: News On 6, David Prock, Jonathan Cooper, CBS News


Every year, more than 18,000 commercial flights take off from Tulsa carrying more than 1.5 million people.

We're taking a look at what's being done to address the mental health issues of those pilots and others across the country. The National Transportation Safety Board hosted a summit on Wednesday to talk about barriers that sometimes keep pilots from seeking treatment.

Skyler Henry with CBS News joined News On 6 with more on what aviation and health experts had to say.

Skyler: Well, there is absolutely a concern about the growing number of under-reported mental health issues that these pilots say that they are having.

Of course, this has been fueled even more so by the incident that happened in October where an Alaska Airlines pilot allegedly turned the engine off of a plane mid-flight. He has been charged with more than 80 counts of endangering others. But it is just the tip of what the NTSB and FAA said is a growing pile of problems, of just a number of pilots ultimately coming out to say that they are suffering from mental health issues.

And so during this summit that we saw today, we heard testimonies from parents of lost loved ones, and other officials, whether that's the chair of the NTSB or the president of the FAA, all coming out to say that there are new steps that they are taking they have announced a new committee that is going to come out to try to see what can be done to address this problem. Just a little bit of background, if you will. The FAA requires all pilots to have what's referred to as a first-class medical certificate that they have to go see an FAA-designated doctor every 12 months 40 and under. Pilots above 40, then you have to go every six months.

And they are required to check in and report any sort of anxiety, depression, or anything related to mental health, if they are cited for lying at all, that of course could be fine. But if that is reported, then it could potentially lead to a grounding and it takes some time to get that certificate back. And that is why this problem has been underreported for so long.

And so this committee as well as the NTSB, as well as the FAA all say that they are going to continue to work together to try to see what can be done with planned results to be put out sometime in March of 2024.

Jonathan: Well Skyler, I want to ask you this as well. You know, you've been talking about PILOTs here in Tulsa, American Airlines employs 1000s of people at their maintenance facility. So will any of today's talks affect people that are who work in the airline industry, not just pilots?

Skyler: Yeah, absolutely. These are air traffic controllers, these are mechanics, in addition to those who may be flying the plane. Ultimately the FAA said that this is a culture of silence, if you will, and that everyone across the board does not report this issue for fear of repercussions or fear of not being able to do the work that they have been assigned to do or they're trained to do. And so they say that they're working as quickly as possible to try to come up with some recommendations that should come out within the next four to five months.

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