April 20, 2016

A leading expert on aeromedicine recommends that flight departments institute formal “fitness for duty” (FFD) programs to evaluate experienced pilots whose flying skills seem to be deteriorating.

Most flight departments lack such programs today, so when the performance of a previously well-functioning pilot declines, the pilot, or his or her colleagues, may be reluctant to tell superiors for fear that the pilot could be suspended or terminated.

But ignoring the matter is not a solution because it can jeopardize the safety and efficiency of business aircraft operations, said Dr. Quay Snyder, president and CEO of the Aviation Medicine Advisory Service, an aeromedical consulting firm based in Centennial, CO.

An established FFD program, with clearly defined rules, can increase confidence that problems will be dealt with fairly, making pilots and their colleagues more likely to step forward to report concerns, Snyder said.

Based on a review of almost 50 recent cases, he found that most causes of substandard pilot performance – whether medical, psychological or cognitive – are treatable, enabling the majority of pilots to safely return to the cockpit. For those who cannot continue flying safely, a well-designed FFD program can permit a retirement or other “graceful exit.”

Snyder, a commercial-rated pilot and former U.S. Air Force flight surgeon, is working as part of the NBAA Safety Committee to develop a template for creating an FFD program. He hopes to unveil the template at NBAA’s 2016 Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) in November in Orlando, FL.

“Fitness for duty is a topic that the NBAA Safety Committee has determined is of such importance for the safe operation of all business aircraft that we have designated it a ‘foundation for safety’ in our Top Safety Focus Areas list,” said Mark Larsen, NBAA’s senior manager of safety and flight operations. Read about the NBAA Safety Committee’s Top Safety Focus Areas.

Snyder will discuss FFD programs when he speaks May 5 at the Business Aviation Safety Summit. His session is titled, “Losing the Right Stuff? A Review of Pilot Fitness for Duty.” BASS, which is organized by the Flight Safety Foundation in partnership with NBAA, takes place May 5 and 6 in Austin, TX.

Learn more about BASS.