HIMS Advanced Topics Seminar Brings Program Administrators Together

By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer
Dr. Quay Snyder, the Association’s aeromedical advisor, hosts a mock Jeopardy! exercise as part of ALPA’s HIMS Advanced Topics Seminar.

More than 230 participants of ALPA’s Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS) Advanced Topics Seminar convened either in person or via videoconference April 11–12 to discuss the status of this occupational substance abuse/addiction program for airline pilots. The group of pilots, practitioners, and policy makers spent two days examining recent trends and evaluating program practices and policy changes. Since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020, researchers have documented an increased number of substance abuse cases in the general public.

Gathering at the Association’s McLean, Va., offices, attendees received a warm welcome from Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president, who remarked, “I’ve often said, ‘You can judge an organization by how it comes to its members in need.’ Because of each of you here today, HIMS is truly the global leader in recovery programs for pilots. It reflects the transformational change made when government, industry, and labor work together.”

“I’m standing here today because of people like you who could do for me what I couldn’t do for myself at a very difficult time in my life,” said F/O Craig Ohmsieder (Spirit), ALPA’s HIMS chair and seminar moderator. “HIMS is all about saving lives, saving families, and saving careers,” he added.

Sharing moderator duties with Ohmsieder were Capt. Billy Petersen (JetBlue), the HIMS vice chair, and Dr. Quay Snyder, ALPA’s aeromedical advisor and HIMS program manager.

Presentations featured leading FAA aeromedicine officials, aviation medical examiners (AMEs), neuropsychologists, psychiatrists, airline managers, peer pilots, and other program stakeholders. Much of the first day’s agenda showcased forums, allowing these groups within the HIMS pipeline to talk briefly about the services they provide and field questions from the audience.

Heading the FAA forum, Dr. Susan Northrup, the federal air surgeon who leads the agency’s Office of Aerospace Medicine, observed, “We have a very dedicated group of people supporting this program. This is all about flight safety and how we get people back in the air in the safest manner we can when they’re dealing with dependencies.”

Northrup commented on the feedback her office has received from HIMS stakeholders and the corresponding action the FAA is taking to improve communication and efficiency. One example is a new feature to MedXPress, allowing pilots to track the status of their medical certificates online throughout the application and review process.

Dr. Penny Giovanetti, director of the FAA’s Medical Specialties Division, noted, “Mental health in aviation is getting all kinds of attention,” adding that a 15-month study to assess substance abuse and addiction programs within the U.S. Department of Transportation is coming.

Much of the seminar’s second day featured best-practice presentations covering topics like individual airline HIMS programs, treatment approaches and alternatives, finding the right AME, and effective monitoring techniques—including encouragement to participate in support groups like Birds of a Feather International.

During these sessions, a participating chief pilot talked about the challenges of determining when to return pilots to the flight deck with maintaining a focus on operational safety. In another segment, a physician reviewed the elements of effective monitoring programs and highlighted the value of getting some flight training to better relate to pilot patients and their specific needs.

Throughout the conference, participants engaged in networking breaks and designated breakout sessions, which were arranged to encourage HIMS program administrators to talk with their peers as well as those who manage other aspects of the process.

The conference’s final activity was a mock Jeopardy! exercise. Snyder posed answers to several panelists who responded with the corresponding questions as they related to current medical certification regulations and general HIMS practices.

A component of ALPA’s Air Safety Organization Pilot Assistance Group, HIMS coordinates the identification, treatment, and return-to-work process for affected airline pilots. The program was developed in the early 1970s with funding by the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Today’s HIMS is administered as part of a cooperative effort through ALPA, the FAA, and participating airlines.

The next HIMS Basic Seminar is scheduled for mid-September in Denver, Colo.

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

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