Uplink ALPA - The Voice of Aviation

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter.

NZALPA’s successful peer support programme highlighted in national media

NZALPA was prominent in the news in December last year as it responded to a pilot welfare survey conducted by Harvard University.  Professor Joseph Allen received responses from 3500 pilots and found that 12.6 per cent met the criteria for depression – a number in line with other high-stress jobs around the world.

“When you consider the pressures of the job and work practices, fatigue and then the family pressures around flying, it’s no surprise pilots feel the stress and strain of the profession,” pilot and NZALPA Medical and Welfare Director Herwin Bongers said.


“But it’s not any different to the needs of others in high-stress professions.”


New Zealand pilots and air traffic controllers (ATCs) have long depended on medical screening and self reporting but NZALPA’s Peer Assistance Network (PAN) and Peer Assistance Training for its members received national attention in light of the study.


In November last year, pilots and ATCs gathered for a Peer Assistance Network training course for Peer Support Volunteers (PSVs). Training is ongoing and more members are opting to become PSVs as awareness grows.


“Aside from regular psychometric testing and vigorous medical protocols, we’ve identified that the first port-of-call seems to be fellow pilots or ATCs,” Bongers said.


“We’ve established a highly trained network of peers who regularly act as a ‘safe harbour’ for their colleagues – they’re people they can speak to who understand the pressures.”


PAN has volunteers who maintain a code of confidentiality for all contacts. Volunteers are trained and supervised by an aviation psychologist to have enhanced listening skills and to provide a referral if a situation requires.


Correct early assistance is proven to either avoid time off work or vastly reduce the period through recovery and return to work, Bongers said.


Jetconnect is the PAN programme’s first financial stakeholder airline, while meetings to identify other key stakeholders for the scheme are ongoing. It is hoped other airlines will quickly follow Jetconnect’s leadership and also invest in this extremely important initiative


“Mental health issues are a normal part of society, but elevated levels are found in high-stress jobs,” Bongers said. “By encouraging honest reporting to become common practice and making it safe for our members to announce any issues, we’ll make a lot of progress.


“At the moment, the information is disseminating at a grassroots level. We’ve also ensured pilots and ATCs who do report are well taken care of. This includes good wrap-around insurance that protects their income, can offer them meaningful work in other roles, and provide them with the appropriate recovery and supervision.


“The focus always needs to remain on the person going through recovery and on positive outcomes,” Bongers said

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