Five Questions for ALPA’s HIMS Chair

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By Christopher Freeze, Senior Aviation Technical Writer
F/O Craig Ohmsieder (Sprit), standing, ALPA’s Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS) chair, moderates the Association’s HIMS Advanced Topics Seminar held in April in McLean, Va.

Editor’s note: This column showcases the efforts of a cross section of ALPA pilots who volunteer their time and talents to advocate for the union’s priorities and the cadre of knowledgeable and passionate staff specialists who support them.

ALPA’s Pilot Assistance Program provides confidential guidance and help to pilots having difficulty in any aspect of their professional or personal life. Under the purview of the Pilot Assistance structure, the Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS) consists of airlines, pilot representatives, medical professionals, and the FAA working together to provide airline pilots a pathway back to the flight deck via an occupational substance abuse treatment program.

The HIMS program establishes carrier-based employee assistance programs to coordinate the identification, treatment, medical recertification, and return to the flight deck of affected pilots in order to preserve their careers and further aviation safety.

Air Line Pilot sat down with F/O Craig Ohmsieder (Spirit) to learn more about the pilot who serves as the Association’s HIMS chair.

Air Line Pilot:

1. How did you get into aviation/flying?

F/O Craig Ohmsieder: I’ve been surrounded by aviation for as long as I can remember. My father flew C-130s in the U.S. Air Force, was a test pilot for Cessna, and then had a 30-year flying career at Delta Air Lines. My sister is a flight attendant at American Airlines, and I have numerous other relatives and close family friends in the aviation industry as well. It seemed only natural, if not destiny, that I’d follow in their footsteps.

In 1989, I attended Auburn University in Auburn, Ala., and majored in professional flight management. After college, I moved back to Georgia and got a job working for Quality Aviation at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport near Atlanta. There I worked for the Beechcraft Flight Department as a flight and ground instructor and as a captain for a Part 135 charter operation. Then in 1999, I was hired by Atlantic Southeast Airlines, which later became ExpressJet Airlines, and I spent 18 and a half years flying the various CRJ200/700/900 models.

In 2018, I was hired by Spirit Airlines, and I’m currently a first officer, flying the Airbus A319/320/321 based at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida.

2. How did you first become involved with ALPA work?

Ohmsieder: I became familiar with HIMS while working as a pilot for Atlantic Southeast in 2003. Then around 2010, as I reflected on my life, my family, and my career, I was humbled by the support I received from the many ALPA volunteers who had helped me along the way. At that point, I knew I had to give back to the Association and its members. I started out volunteering as a HIMS pilot peer monitor for my pilot group and was then asked to be the HIMS vice chair and then later the HIMS chair. This led to the opportunity to serve as ALPA’s HIMS chair, which I’ve been doing for a little more than three years now.

3. What are your roles and responsibilities as ALPA’s HIMS chair?

Ohmsieder: As ALPA’s HIMS chair, I have three primary roles. The first is education. I’m responsible for ensuring that HIMS training is available and administered to all HIMS volunteers and professionals nationwide.

The second is outreach. I share the message of recovery to pilot groups and management teams across the country and around the world.

The third is representation. I work with pilots and HIMS chairs from every ALPA pilot group as well as with general aviation pilots to establish a beneficial working relationship with the FAA, airlines, doctors, and treatment centers. ALPA’s goal is to ensure that the HIMS program is and will continue to be the gold standard for saving the lives of affected pilots and returning them to the flight deck for many years to come.

4. How do ALPA national and staff help you achieve your goals?

Ohmsieder: From the moment I met Capt. Joe DePete, it was very clear that he had a heart for helping pilots, especially through the Association’s Pilot Assistance programs. His leadership and support, as well as that of F/O John Taylor (United), ALPA’s Pilot Assistance chair, has allowed me to help pilots in ways I never thought possible.

An example is the support given to our HIMS training seminars. We typically train more than 400 pilots and medical professionals every year at our HIMS Basic Seminar held in Denver, Colo. Due to COVID restrictions, we had to cancel the event in 2020 and were concerned that we might have to cancel the seminar again in 2021. But ALPA stepped in to save the day. The Association assisted us by providing all the necessary facilities, equipment, and staff to broadcast our first-ever virtual HIMS conference live from ALPA’s offices in McLean, Va. It was such a success that we returned to ALPA’s offices in Virginia again this year to conduct our hybrid in-person/virtual HIMS Advanced Topics Seminar. Staff members from Engineering & Air Safety to Strategic Member Development and Resources to the Communications Departments have provided their knowledge and expertise to help us put together these top-notch seminars.

5. What advice would you give to new pilots who want to get involved with ALPA?

Ohmsieder: Do something you’re passionate about! There are so many areas in which you can serve. Find a committee or committees that interest you, then ask your local rep if there’s a way you can help.

For me, my volunteer work with HIMS is all about being there to help someone when their entire world is being flipped upside down. I want to ensure that we’re ready to assist the next time and every time a hand is raised looking for help.

The History of HIMS

“The core of this union is helping fellow aviators who may be struggling, privately or professionally,” Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president, has asserted many times. Since the Association’s founding in 1931, the ways in which ALPA has provided this assistance have evolved and grown throughout the decades, including the Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS), one of the six disciplines under the Air Safety Organization’s Pilot Assistance structure.

In 1974, ALPA introduced HIMS as the first reliable, systemwide program to help airline pilots with alcohol and substance abuse problems. A joint effort with the FAA and airlines, it provides a system for identifying and treating impaired pilots and a pathway back to the flight deck. “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,” observes F/O Craig Ohmsieder (Spirit), ALPA’s HIMS chair.

Today, most major U.S. airlines endorse the model and have HIMS-trained management and union personnel. The program has proven itself extremely effective with a cost-benefit analyses showing a $28 return for every $1 spent on treatment.

Learn more about the HIMS program, or get information about ALPA’s Pilot Assistance structure.

This article was originally published in the May 2022 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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