There has been a tremendous amount of news coverage on the Germanwings tragedy. Some of the news has focused on pilots who suffer from depression. I have had numerous news outlets contact me asking me to comment on this tragedy. Some of these requests come from news shows that would use this tragedy to sensationalize this horrific event. It is due to the drama seeking shows that I have not consented to an interview yet.
When I first went on CNN in 2010 most of the feedback I received were words of encouragement and support. There were some negative comments posted on various websites that carried the story, including this blog. There will always be differing opinions on any subject. I do not regret going public. I receive emails to this day from people worldwide asking for help. Usually, these emails are from people who suffer from depression and have thought about a career in aviation. They are asking for guidance in how to proceed. I respond to these inquiries by telling them first and foremost to be honest.
Occasionally, I receive correspondence from professional pilots. Sometimes I am asked if I felt it was worth it for me to ground myself as I did. I will respond by telling them that flying is something that I do, it does not define me as a person. All too often people are judged by others as to what type of job a person has. When people find out I am a pilot I get looks of admiration. Yes, I love what I do. But I am still just a person.
It seems that pilots are supposed to be flawless. Pilots are not supposed to make mistakes. Pilots are supposed to have super powers. Well, I hate to disappoint everyone, but pilots are human too. Pilots catch colds. Pilots come down with the flu. Pilots can have their bodies ravaged by cancer. And yes, pilots can suffer from depression.
If a pilot is depressed there needs to be a way that he or she can disclose this condition without fear of losing his or her job. Currently, the FAA does have protocol in place for pilots in this situation. However, it is not easy for someone suffering from depression to talk with others about their disease. When I mention to other pilots that I grounded myself I usually do not tell the reason why. On a couple of occasions I disclose the reason for my grounding. Each time my admission has been received in a positive manner. I have not felt ridicule from my fellow aviators.
I have seen some comments on news stories about me wondering what Captain (Sully) Sullenberger would say regarding this topic. I recently read an article written by Captain Sullenberger regarding this topic. Here is a link to that story. http://time.com/author/chesley-b-sully-sullenberger-iii/. He is in favor of pilots who suffer from depression seeking help and returning to duty when they are capable of doing so.
I hope and pray that the actions of the Germanwings First Officer, Andreas Lubitz, does not reverse all of the work that has been put into paving the road for pilots who need help. Pilots who have depression need to know they can come forward and receive the help they need. Please remember, pilots are people too!
Keep a eye on the sky!
Collin W. Hughes