European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has launched a new mental health research project, MESAFE, which stands for MEntal health for aviation SAFEty and will update the current EU standards for mental health assessment in aviation. Following a call for tender, EASA has awarded a contract to the Italian subject matter expert Deep Blue. The project will be funded by the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme and addresses the challenges of the effective implementation of the Aeromedical certification process for pilots and air traffic controllers (ATCOs) concerning the incapacitation risk associated with mental health conditions. In particular, it aims at providing evidence-based recommendations for new medical developments for the early diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions which could pose a safety risk for aviation and would consequently lead to pilots and ATCOs unfitness or the limitation of their medical certificate for safety purposes.
“Currently, there are no specific, validated mental health assessment methods for aviation use, incorporating the specific operational needs, to address the issues identified,” said Willy Sigl, Senior Research Officer at EASA, explaining the need for a dedicated research action. “Research is needed to further detail the specific needs, and to develop and validate assessment methods or to assess the applicability of existing methods for use in the aviation environment”.
MESAFE will last 24 months and will produce 3 main outputs:
- A dynamic mental fitness assessment process for the protection of aviation safety, intended to support the long-term and strategic decision making of aeromedical examiners and medical assessors.
- Policy making recommendations, including evidence-based recommendations for updating the mental health certification requirements and an impact assessment of the recommended regulatory changes.
- A human-centred toolkit aimed at peer support groups, including innovative strategies for proactive monitoring and management of pre-clinical signs and symptoms of psychological discomfort; evidence-based recommendations for stress management at individual and group levels; guidance materials on mental health assessment and the updates to the mental fitness certification process.
“The project is outstanding and strategic for the aviation community and extremely delicate at the same time,” said Paola Lanzi, Project Manager of MESAFE at Deep Blue. “The project enlarges the current models and approaches of the Human Factors (HF) discipline by including mental health among the conditions that might affect human performance and safety. HF involves all the aspects connected to the way human beings engage with the operational environment surrounding them. MESAFE highlights that the state of well-being of the operators, also from the perspective of mental health, shall be considered an enabling factor for aviation safety.”
Paola Tomasello, Senior Aviation Psychologist and Technical lead of MESAFE at Deep Blue: “The dramatic Germanwings accident and others similar and recent demonstrated that the incapacitation related to mental disorders shall be considered as a new safety hazard for the aviation industry. MESAFE includes the study of mental health as one of the prioritised topics in the area of health to be updated in Aviation Medicine. This brings about a change of perspective, intended to hinder stigma and trivialization towards mental illness, as well as to deliver a message in which the safety of aviation operations relies on the mental health of professionals in charge of generating it.”