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4/2/2010 10:06:33 AM - Is Your Pilot Depressed?

In yet another sign that America is doomed, the once-great nation now finds itself unable to "discriminate" against depressed pilots.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in a policy shift, will now allow pilots to operate aircraft while taking certain antidepressants. The agency says it will consider waivers for pilots on medication for mild to moderate depression, conditions that currently bar them from all flying duties. The FAA will begin its new policy Monday (April 5, 2010) and issue waivers on a case-by-case basis to pilots on one of four antidepressants: Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa and Lexapro, or their generic equivalents.

However, pilots will only be allowed to fly if they have been "satisfactorily" treated on the medication for at least one year. What does that mean? It means that if a depressed pilot decides that he doesn't want to go out alone and takes a plane full of people with them, the FAA will issue a formal statement saying "Oopsie Daisy" before promptly repealing the policy in the face of public fury...which will, of course, be of subtle consolation to the families of those that already died as a result of the policy.

The agency said the availability of antidepressants that have fewer side effects was a factor in the change. Some older medications carried strong warnings about potential suicide and cautioned that people taking the drugs could suffer seizures and drowsiness, which could make operating aircraft unsafe, the FAA said.

While the side effects are certainly a huge concern, what about the reason for which the pilots are on the medication in the first place? It is one thing to allow a depressed individual to continue to work. It is quite another to put hundreds of people at risk - without them knowing it - because of some misguided inclination not to "punish" the pilot for a medical condition.

I would have no problem with a policy shift like this if passengers had to sign a waiver before boarding stating that they knew that their pilot was depressed and that they would not hold the airline accountable for anything resulting from that condition. The airline could even, if necessary and still cost effective, offer a discount - subsidized by a reduction in the pilot's pay - to those willing to sign such a form.

The ill effects of depression can manifest themselves in many ways. Even if a depressed pilot is not suicidal, their depression could lead to drowsiness, distraction, delayed reaction times, and many other things. In some situations, those side effects could be the difference between a pilot successfully averting a problem and catastrophe.

Justice is a scale on which the concerns of two parties must be weighed. By hiding the mental health condition of the pilot, the pilot reaps all of the benefits while the passengers bear all of the costs. If placing their lives in the hands of someone clinically diagnosed with depression isn't something that they wish to do - perhaps for any price, then how is justice served to merely hide that fact from them?

Piloting a plane - especially one loaded with hundreds of people - is not a right, and the ability of the pilot to work must be balanced with the right of people to choose which risks in their lives are worth taking.

- TZ

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