ALPA Members Are Never Alone
Pilot Assistance Ensures There's Always Someone You Can Contact
By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented turmoil within the airline industry, creating stress and anxiety for many airline industry workers and their families. Now more than ever, ALPA’s Pilot Assistance structure is here to help members in need.
“Ensuring that ALPA pilots get the attention and resources they need when health and well-being issues are a concern is the mandate of the Air Safety Organization’s [ASO] Pilot Assistance structure,” said F/O John Taylor (United), who chairs ALPA’s Pilot Assistance Group. Through an extensive network of pilot volunteers, Pilot Assistance offers confidential support to ALPA members experiencing difficulties with any aspect of their personal or professional lives that could impact job performance. Pilot representatives specializing in several disciplines are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Pilot Assistance includes
- Aeromedical, which tackles medical certification and at-work environmental health issues;
- Critical Incident Response Program (CIRP), which addresses stress reactions that can occur after exposure to an accident or serious incident;
- Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS), which deals with alcohol and substance abuse and addiction;
- Pilot Peer Support (PPS), which handles stress from both professional and personal sources;
- Professional Standards, which responds to interpersonal conflicts with other pilots or employees; and
- Pilot Assistance−Canada, which offers a separate set of programs tailored to meet all these needs for ALPA’s Canadian members.
In addition to assisting pilots, these disciplines host conferences and training events throughout the year and work with other aviation industry stakeholders to share information and establish new networks of support. They also work collectively to raise awareness of health and well-being concerns to help minimize the social stigma of asking for help.
“The disciplines of Pilot Assistance overlap and work together, providing guidance and help to our fellow members when they need it most,” said Taylor.
ALPA’s Aeromedical Group compiles and correlates information about pilot health and serves as a liaison with the medical community. “I support Aeromedical Committee chairs at each of ALPA’s U.S.-based pilot groups and act as a point of contact for medical certification questions as well as those concerning medical and other leaves and return-to-flight-status policies,” said F/O Ellen Brinks (Delta), who chairs the Aeromedical Group.
Brinks also works on occupational health issues such as oxygen mask disinfection, cancers related to radiation exposure, and other matters. In addition, she’s a member of the Association’s Health and Environment Working Group, along with other ASO leaders, which works to develop strategies for assessing cabin air–quality events, building awareness of these incidents, and identifying best practices and workable solutions.
ALPA’s Aeromedical Group works in conjunction with the Aviation Medicine Advisory Service (AMAS)—ALPA’s Aeromedical Office near Denver, Colo.—regarding members’ aeromedical needs. AMAS’s board-certified physicians advise ALPA members on FAA-related health questions and work closely with the agency to stay on top of policy interpretations and any regulatory or procedural updates.
Exposure to traumatic events can trigger stress reactions that have long-lasting physical or psychological implications. CIRP uses trained pilot peers to work with ALPA members in mitigating the psychological impact of an incident or accident and aid in the normal recovery from these events before harmful stress reactions affect job performance, careers, families, and health.
CIRP protocols address posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares, and obsessive thoughts. “Think of CIRP as psychological first aid,” remarked Capt. John McFadden (United), who chairs the program, noting that it was originally developed to help first responders like police officers, firefighters, and military special forces teams. CIRP volunteers are trained in structured defusing and debriefing techniques to more effectively assist with an individual’s normal reactions to an abnormal event in their lives.
HIMS, an occupational substance abuse peer intervention and treatment program, was created to provide a support network for afflicted individuals who, after successful completion of the program, are able to return to the flight deck under FAA special issuance regulations (14 CFR 67.401).
F/O Craig Ohmsieder (Spirit), the HIMS chair, and fellow pilot volunteers coordinate the identification, treatment, and return-to-work process for affected members. “Alcoholism and other chemical dependencies are categorized as a disease,” said Ohmsieder, who noted that they affect airline pilots to the same degree as the general public. “The program requires cooperation from the company, pilot peer volunteers, health-care professionals, and FAA medical specialists to help affected pilots get the treatment and attention they need.”
PPS connects ALPA members confronting stress-related issues of either a personal or professional nature with trained pilot peers who listen and offer confidential, nonjudgmental support.
“I work with the other committees of the Pilot Assistance structure to make sure we’re taking care of all the needs of our pilots that arise in our rapidly changing work environment and industry,” said F/O Carrie Braun (JetBlue), the PPS chair. “Using a holistic approach for this kind of coordination is essential to the well-being of every ALPA member we serve.”
The Association’s Professional Standards Group uses ALPA’s Code of Ethics as a foundation to help protect and enhance the careers of ALPA members. “We get involved when crew resource management issues and other interpersonal conflicts occur between our own members or with other employees,” said Capt. Tom Letson (Delta), who chairs the group.
“Any kind of breakdown in the performance of procedures and standard communications that must be conducted and the disregard for professional courtesies can jeopardize both safety and security,” said Letson. Professional Standards pilot representatives make every effort to resolve differences that arise between parties so that management doesn’t need to become involved and discipline the individuals.
Pilot Assistance−Canada provides its own set of similar programs and services tailored to meet the needs of the more than 5,000 members who fly for Canadian carriers by pooling its pilot groups’ resources to provide Aeromedical and PPS programs as well as CIRP for all Canadian members.
“Each pilot group handles its own professional standards issues,” said Capt. Tom O’Toole (Jazz Aviation), who chairs Pilot Assistance−Canada, adding that for alcohol and substance abuse concerns, the new Air Crew Recovery Canada was created to give special attention to recent rule changes and the process for reinstating recovered pilots.
“What we really want to get across to our members is that they’re not alone,” said O’Toole. “There’s always someone they can reach out to.”
This sentiment is shared by all Pilot Assistance disciplines, which work together to ensure that ALPA is taking care of its members by providing health and wellness resources. Whether it’s assisting a pilot returning to the line after battling cancer, listening to a member who’s having issues with a coworker, or supporting a pilot going through a furlough, ALPA’s Pilot Assistance structure is always available to help.
Pilot Assistance Contact Information
Aeromedical: F/O Ellen Brinks (Delta), chair
CIRP: Worldwide ALPA Accident/Serious Incident Hotline 202-797-4180 or 703-892-4180
HIMS: F/O Craig Ohmsieder (Spirit), chair
Pilot Peer Support: 309-PPS-ALPA (309-777-2572)
Delta PAN: 800-USA-ALPA
FedEx Express PATH: 866-FDX-ALPA
JetBlue PAN: 309-PPS-ALPA
United SOAR: 866-653-SOAR
Professional Standards: Contact your pilot group’s Professional Standards Committee chair (Visit your pilot group’s website for committee contact information.)
Pilot Assistance−Canada: Capt. Tom O’Toole (Jazz Aviation), chair