Fit for Flight

Fit for Flight

“In times like this, it’s easy to feel like everything is a threat
when the reality is…you’re probably doing okay. ‘Managing the story’ is being mindful of the present moment – not letting your mind run into the future.”

– Matt McNeil, LiftAffect

The inspiration for this month’s briefing comes from NBAA’s recently published “Pandemic Playbook: Lessons Learned from COVID-19,” found in their November/December issue of “Business Aviation Insider.” 

The piece dives into business aviation’s many examples of adaptability during the 2020 pandemic, including FAA extensions and temporary rules, navigation of travel restrictions, new aircraft sanitation practices, expanded digital outreach, etc. The article as a whole is an amazing testament to the industry’s resilience. 

One particular section struck me as especially relevant to highlight on this page:  

Keeping Crews Mentally Fit

Being ‘fit to fly’ is more than just a physical condition; it’s also a mental one. Business aviation professionals are not immune to the mental health issues affecting the overall population, many of which have been heightened by the effects of COVID-19.

This requires aviation managers – many of whom are already confronted with idled aircraft and flight crews – to consider the pandemic’s potential impact on the mental health of their employees and themselves.

“Because of collective anxiety and uncertainty, we as pilots need to be extra vigilant in self-monitoring symptoms,” said Matt McNeil, a licensed professional counselor and founder of LiftAffect, who noted that pandemic-induced physical and mental impacts, such as increased irritability and trouble sleeping, could increase risks for errors on the flight deck.

Though I am not a professional pilot, I am married to one and surrounded by numerous others. Conversations around reduced flying hours, job security concerns and heightened health risks have become more commonplace in our day-to-day lives. It can be difficult to leave those emotions and distractions at the aircraft door.

Our own contributor and airline pilot, Kevin Dingman, also discusses the mental toll of COVID-19 in his article on page 22: “We’re all familiar with the IMSAFE aviation mnemonic. By triggering three of its six components: S-stress, F-fatigue and E-Emotion, the pandemic has inserted itself in our preflight planning not only regarding quarantine restrictions and availability of services but in our very fitness to fly the airplane – and we should not underestimate its effect…just as we do in the cockpit, analyze the situation, manage problems as they arise and take the appropriate action.” 

So, whether you fly professionally or privately, I encourage you to consider whether or not you, or your flight department, should be taking steps to address the topic of mental health. One potential resource is LiftAffect – quoted in this article. LiftAffect specializes in helping professional pilots with depression, anxiety, acute/chronic stress, complex trauma, performance issues, etc. (You can learn more at liftaffect.com).

2020 has delivered one challenge after another, but let’s do all we can to ensure safety remains at the forefront. Here’s to a healthier and happier 2021. 

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