Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Airline Pilots on Mood Altering Drugs

I was reading a report of how 231 pilots died in accidents in a 2006 study were using mood altering drugs and the term mood altering drugs refers to a class of drugs like Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, or Lexapro and their generic equivalents. So when Captain Osbon got erratic part of the problem was his mood altering drug which likely means he was just going onto it, coming off of it or having dosage problems with his mood altering drug which made him delusional. And part of the problem of mood altering drugs is that under certain conditions with some people that they become delusional or suicidal or both. In other words they lose complete touch with reality. For me, personally, that is why I would never use mood altering drugs because as a counselor for Emotionally disturbed teenagers in the 1990s I saw up close and personal just how bad things could get while they were on mood altering drugs.

And from my point of view I don't think having an airline pilot or flight attendant on mood altering drugs is okay. From my point of view a very low dose of LSD might have similar effects in some circumstances, especially just starting a mood altering drug treatment or coming off of a treatment or forgetting to regularly take their medicine. Any one of these times extreme complications sometimes occur. However, all this is just my personal opinion because I don't consider any mood altering drugs actually safe. Instead I see them as a way to avoid the expense of counseling. To me, it would be like getting shot by a gun and instead of removing the bullet just putting a piece of duct tape over it. But this is just my personal opinion.

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Fracas Aloft on JetBlue Flight Shows Gap in Screening


Clayton Osbon, a JetBlue pilot, was removed from the plane after it was diverted to Texas.
On Tuesday, a JetBlue pilot who was behaving erratically was physically restrained by passengers after his co-pilot locked him out of the cockpit. With chaos in the cabin, the plane, flying from New York to Las Vegas, was forced to make an emergency landing in Amarillo, Tex.
While the airline has said only that the pilot, Clayton Osbon, was suffering from a “medical condition,” the incident highlighted the delicate subject of how airlines screen pilots for fitness to fly.
Pilots are required to have annual medical checkups. But these exams, performed by general medical practitioners, are not always thorough, some pilots say, and do not typically include psychological evaluations. The airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration rely on pilots to voluntarily disclose any physical or mental health problems they may have or medication they are taking.
Captain Osbon has been employed by JetBlue since June 2000, four months after the airline started operations.
David Barger, the company’s chief executive and president, quickly took to the airwaves Wednesday, declaring that Captain Osbon was a “consummate professional” with no earlier problems. He also was a senior pilot who taught and evaluated standard operating procedures on the Airbus A320, the airline said.
“I’ve known the captain personally for a long period of time and there’s been no indication of this at all,” Mr. Barger said in an early-morning appearance on NBC’s “Today” program.
Mr. Osbon, 49, was charged by federal authorities on Wednesday with interfering with a flight crew. Under federal law, a conviction could carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. Mr. Osbon remained under medical evaluation.
An F.B.I. affidavit filed Wednesday in Federal District Court in Northern Texas said that Mr. Osbon had told the plane’s first officer that “we’re not going to Vegas.” The co-pilot “became really worried when Osbon said, ‘We need to take a leap of faith,’ ” the court document said. It described a chaotic situation on the plane, with Mr. Osbon acting erratically, running in the cabin, banging loudly on the cockpit door after being locked out by the co-pilot and shouting jumbled comments about “Jesus, September 11th, Iraq, Iran and terrorists.”
The issue of pilot health, which can also include fatigue, is longstanding. Pilots are screened for medical or psychological problems before being hired, and are randomly tested afterward for drug and alcohol use. They must undergo medical examinations once or twice a year, depending on their age, to keep their certification with the F.A.A. 
Pilots are supposed to disclose all physical and psychological conditions and medications or face significant fines, which can reach $250,000, if they are found to have falsified information, the F.A.A. said. 
But some pilots may be reluctant to disclose such information, for fear of losing their jobs, industry analysts and retired pilots said Wednesday. Many airlines also have anonymous phone lines for crew members to report suspicious behavior to professional standards committees.
Otherwise, airlines rely on the collaborative nature of the business, which provides constant checks and balances, said Robert W. Mann Jr., an airline industry analyst and a former executive with major airlines.
“Airlines have ways of monitoring the psychology of their employees because crew members typically can say, ‘I do not want to fly with Bob, he’s a jerk,’ ” Mr. Mann said. “If half of the first officers in the fleet do not want to fly with Bob, flight operation officers would know.”
Two years ago, the F.A.A. relaxed its longstanding ban on psychiatric medications for pilots, saying that new drugs for depression had fewer side effects than older drugs. The agency now grants waivers allowing pilots to fly while taking Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa or Lexapro, and their generic equivalents.
The F.A.A.’s administrator at the time, J. Randolph Babbitt, said the agency was relaxing its ban because it was concerned that some pilots with depression were not being treated, or were being secretive about it. “We need to change the culture and remove the stigma associate with depression,” Mr. Babbitt said then. 
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 28, 2012

An earlier version of this story, using information provided by the F.A.A., misstated the percentage of pilots with a first-class medical certificate who had been granted a waiver to fly while taking certain psychiatric medications. It is 0.016 percent, not 0.00016.

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