President’s Corner 4Q16, “NTSB’s Christmas (and Year-long) Wish List”

The NTSB recently announced its 10 Most Wanted List for safety improvements for 2017 and 2018. See .  For four years running, three critical human factors issues are featured:

  1. End Alcohol and other Drug Impairment in Transportation
  2. Require Medical Fitness
  3. Reduce Fatigue Related Accidents

Our staff at AMAS works daily with pilots and aviation organizations on these critical safety issues. Each is important in its own right and the three frequently overlap.  The dangerous aspects of these issues are that they often are very difficult to recognize, often are denied even if recognized and are associated with fear of career jeopardy if addressed openly.  Fortunately, tools exist to effectively deal with all of these issues which promotes pilot health, improves productivity, protects careers, saves money and most importantly, enhance aviation safety.

The world renowned HIMS program serves pilots with alcohol and other substance use disorders. The HIMS program provides a very effective and highly successful process for identification, intervention, treatment and return to flying status under careful monitoring of pilots with this disease.  The FAA program is done jointly with the Air Line Pilots Association, International with the worldwide training seminars managed by AMAS.  Over 200 HIMS designated AME’s worldwide can provide assistance to airline and more recently, business and GA pilots.

The National Institutes of Health estimate that over 11% of adult Americans suffer from alcohol and substance use disorders.  These affect nearly every flight department, from pilots and cabin crew to maintainers, dispatchers and others.  The problem is often hidden, denied or otherwise unrecognized, but it is always a safety hazard and in many cases, is fatal if left untreated.  For any questions about the program, see the website at or contact an AMAS physician for more information.

A second common, and often unrecognized, problem is Fitness for Duty (F4D). This may manifest in both obvious and subtle ways, including training failures, SOP deviations, ineffective CRM, FMS programming difficulties or discomfort flying with another pilot.  The experience at AMAS in evaluating over 50 pilots referred for Fitness for Duty problems is that approximately one third of causes are previously undetected medical problem.  One third of cases stem from psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD or common grief and family issues that become overwhelming.  The final third, and there is overlap in some cases with multiple causes, come from cognitive decline, frequently associated with aging, head injury, medications and many other factors.

The NBAA has five Foundations for Safety, including Fitness for Duty. The NBAA Safety Committee will soon release a guidebook for flight departments looking to have a Fitness for Duty program as a key element of their Safety Program.  The NBAA will also have a section on its web site for tools and resources for conducting F4D evaluations, educational webinars and presentations at aviation meetings for this very important topic.  For more information, see the NBAA Safety Committee web site at or contact an AMAS physician for specific information on setting up F4D programs or conducting evaluations.

Fatigue is a constant challenge in this 24/7 world of high performance expectations, long distance travel, back side of the clock operations and unfamiliarity with effects of medications and medical conditions. The Flight Safety Foundation and the NBAA released an updated Rest/Duty Guidelines for Business Aviation which is an excellent science based reference for pilots.  Just as with substance use and Fitness for Duty, fatigue affects all members of a flight department, not just pilots.  The holiday season may lead to increased fatigue with so many competing demands

I want to encourage everyone to have a happy holiday season and a safe 2017. Take care of your fellow flight department professionals, your family and yourself.  Make 2017 your best year ever, both professionally and personally.  Help make the NTSB’s Most Wanted List a Christmas dream come true!

Fly Safely, Stay Healthy!

Quay Snyder