Aerospace medical professionals from around the world looked at New Zealand as an industry leader at a recent Aerospace Medical Association Conference.
Previous NZALPA Medical and Welfare Director Captain Herwin Bongers was invited to be a panelist at this global event to highlight the advantages and experience of the New Zealand Peer Assistance Network (PAN).
The PAN programme, established by Captain Bongers, is regularly used by NZALPA members and other aviators around New Zealand to assist pilots and controllers experiencing stress and other factors compromising mental wellness.
“Our PAN programme is considered a world leader for mental health assistance as it captures all facets of the aviation industry, including jet pilots, general aviation, helicopter pilots and air traffic controllers,” said Bongers.
The Programme has the support from the industry regulator Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and employers such as Air New Zealand and Airways.
The PAN programme encourages pilots and controllers experiencing stress, or compromised mental wellness to contact a NZALPA PAN Representative (who are also pilots and controllers) for confidential support and pragmatic assistance.
“What has happened in the past is that when things are left too late, and people think they’re suffering from a career-ending issue, they don’t feel they know the right places to go,” Bongers said.
“The PAN programme is essentially formalising an ‘after-work chat’ scenario. Pilots and controllers who want to talk, and their first port of call is a colleague and a person they know they can trust. This is where the peer-support network came from.” A valuable part of the programme is the option of referring to our own psychologist if that is chosen.
“Careers can be marred if a critical error is made whilst at work when suffering high personal stress or anxiety. It’s normal to have a time in our lives when it’s a struggle to manage the stress.
“Given the high risk involved with errors in our industry, finding the time to talk about your stress with someone who understands the challenges and can provide guidance is far better than persevering alone thinking things will come right.” The mental health of pilots became a particular priority for the industry after the Germanwings Flight tragedy.
Industry regulators, including representatives from the UK and Australia, joined Bongers on the Panel and discussed the importance of PAN programmes within aviation and the essential elements that every programme needs to include. The Panel also found increasing requirements in regions such as Europe to have a mandatory PAN programme in place with ways that they could encourage pilots to use and engage in this service.
“The focus always needs to remain on the person going through recovery and on positive outcomes – what’s good for pilots is also safer for the travelling public.”
The Aerospace Medical Association Annual Scientific Meeting was held last month in Dallas Texas. Attendees included officers from the US Armed Forces, regulators such as the Federation Aviation Administration (FAA); New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority and its other international
equivalents, with a number of aerospace medical professionals from around the world.
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