WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration has ruled out requiring psychological testing for airline pilots, despite an air crash last year in which a German pilot deliberately flew an airliner full of passengers into a mountainside, agency administrator Michael Huerta said Thursday.
Psychological tests are ineffective because they reveal a pilot’s mental health for only a moment in time without providing insight into whether the pilot will suffer problems later, Huerta told reporters at a news conference. Instead, he announced several steps the FAA is taking to encourage greater voluntary self-reporting by pilots of mental health problems. The steps are based on recommendations made by an industry advisory committee.
Michael Berry, the FAA’s deputy flight surgeon, drew a distinction between testing and evaluation. Currently no psychological testing is required of airline pilots, but they are routinely evaluated on how they handle stress during tests of their flying skills.
Pilots are also required to undergo a medical exam annually or every six months, depending on their age, that is administered by an FAA certified aeromedical examiner. Most of the exam is devoted to the pilot’s physical condition. Examiners aren’t required to ask specific mental-health questions. However, they are supposed to evaluate a pilot’s mental health based on their conversation with the pilot during the exam.
Pilots are also required to fill out a health form in conjunction with their visits that asks whether they’ve ever been diagnosed with or are being treated or taking medications for a mental illness.
Airlines generally require pilots to take psychological tests before hiring them, but they are primarily personality tests used to judge whether a prospective pilot will fit well with the company rather than attempts to uncover mental illness, Berry said.
On March 24, 2015, co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked Germanwings Flight 9525’s captain out of the cockpit and deliberately set the plane on a collision course with a mountainside in the French Alps. All 150 people aboard, including Lubitz, were killed.
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