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12 October 2018

How’s your day it’s a simple question – but one with a big impact and one that should be asked more often among men and women working in New Zealand’s growing aviation industry.

Mental health issues can be triggered by a multitude of reasons including loneliness, lack of routine, grief and work pressure. An industry in which this can be prevalent is aviation.

Recognising and supporting mental health in the workplace is a central part of New Zealand Mental Health Awareness Week and has special significance for pilots, air traffic controllers and flight crew – kiwis who often work long hours in transit, away from their family and loved ones.

These possible strains on mental health have been recognised by the New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association (NZALPA) and are the core reasons behind the development of the Peer Assistance Network (PAN) – a programme that now attracts wider support for key players in the aviation industry.

“It is a high-pressure industry and one mistake can impact not just you and your crew, but also a plane full of passengers,” said NZALPA Medical and Welfare Director and international pilot, Andy Pender.

Now in its third year, PAN is supported by all industry representatives including Air New Zealand, Jetconnect, Virgin Australia, Ardmore Flying School, Airways, and the Civil Aviation Authority.

“This industry-wide programme, created by NZALPA, has received international attention and 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, air traffic controllers and flight training schools.

“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,” Captain Pender said.

There are also options under the programme of referring to PAN’s own psychologist if a member prefers.

“Given the high risk involved, aviation careers can be ended and lives endangered if a critical error is made while at work when suffering high personal stress or anxiety.

“Traditionally there has been a stigma in aviation that if you are struggling with mental health then your license will be taken off you. This is more often not the case, and plenty examples exist of pilots now flying who have recovered from low periods.

“The PAN programme helps workers realise that its normal go through time when we might struggle to manage stress. Finding the time to talk 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 in 2015, where a pilot suffering from psychosis crashed the Airbus A320 into the French Alps.

“The focus must always be on the welfare of the person going through recovery and on positive outcomes- what’s good for pilots is also safer for the travelling public.”


Media contact: Georgina Thomas 021 329 907

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