The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have had, and continue to have, significant impacts on the aviation industry and some of those impacts will be long-lasting. Currently we find ourselves in an unprecedented time of uncertainty. This has highlighted the importance and the need to be aware of, and support, all aspects of the physical and psychological health and wellbeing of all aviation professionals.

People are critical to the successful operation of the aviation system and in order to support their performance and wellbeing, we need to understand what challenges people are facing. The risk to safe operations is that this period of uncertainty, change and disruption presents additional stressors. These may reduce a person’s capacity and ability to perform or monitor themselves as effectively as they would usually. This can impact the effectiveness of the reporting culture within an organisation, a critical element of our evolving aviation system.

It’s OK to not feel OK, but it’s really important that people feel able to speak up so that support can be provided, and situations where fatigue and/or wellbeing could be a risk to safe operations can be identified.

Support is key. Operators/employers should encourage their people to speak with their GP, AME, family, friends, or colleagues and to report any concerns via the standard reporting processes. Operators/employers should take a careful, non-discriminatory approach (with professional HR and medical advice) to their handling of these sensitive matters that ultimately can have negative flight safety outcomes.

Support networks such as the Peer Assistance Network (0800 PAN 100 or www.pan.org.nz(external link)) are an important resource to reach out to. The Ministry of Health also provide a raft of mental health and wellbeing resources on their website(external link). In addition, ICAO recently released guidance(external link) that focuses on the management of operational safety risks posed by the challenges of flight crew working in the "new normal" of COVID-impacted conditions.

Aviation professionals should also report any safety concerns to the CAA. Improvements can only be made by gaining the valuable information from those people involved. Understanding the impact fatigue, anxiety and low mental and physical health is having on aviation professionals can help improve the management of these risks in the future.

To help mitigate the risks in the present, take time to think about what worked well previously and what strategies can either be continued or reintroduced, to ensure operations continue safely.

For more information on human factors visit our human factors section.