The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has lifted a ban that prevented pilots from flying while taking antidepressants. According to the Associated Press (AP), the FAA lifted the ban because new medications do not cause pronounced drowsiness or other impairments. The new policy will allow pilots to take Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, or Lexapro, or their generic versions, meaning pilots with only mild to moderate cases will benefit.
The catch: Pilots just beginning treatment will be grounded for a year so that side effects can be monitored, while individuals already taking one of these medications will need to have been side-effect free for a year and show that their symptoms are under control. Pilots currently taking these medications have six months to disclose their prescriptions without penalty.
Still, lifting the ban will allow pilots to treat themselves in the open, rather than keeping their condition and treatment a secret. “We need to change the culture and remove the stigma associated with depression,” FAA chief Randy Babbitt said. “Pilots should be able to get the medical treatment they need so they can safely perform their duties.”
I must say I agree with the FAA’s decision here. It’s much safer to have healthy and happy pilots openly treating themselves than it is to have those same pilots secretly taking prescriptions and constantly worried about getting caught. Personally, I feel safer knowing my pilots are taking care of themselves. It’s unfortunate that pilots must establish a year of controlled symptoms and side effects before getting back into the cockpit, but I understand the need for a careful transition to the new policy.
That the FAA also recognizes mild to moderate depression as a treatable condition, and not something that in and of itself should prevent pilots from flying, is encouraging. As Babbitt said, there’s a stigma attached to depression, and treatment for depression, that doesn’t really reflect reality, and many travelers probably wonder if pilots with depression should fly at all. This new policy should put any such doubt to rest.
Readers, what do you think?