Administrator Steve Dickson’s Remarks at the University of North Dakota Mental Health Summit

Administrator Stephen M. Dickson (August 12, 2019 - March 31, 2022)

Hello everyone. I’m sorry I couldn’t be with you in person today. I wanted to say a few words at the beginning of the summit   because mental health in the aerospace profession is an extremely important and timely topic. 

One of the things I love so much about this industry is the passion that all of us have for aviation. I see it in my FAA workforce....I see it when I  visit with industry...I see it in the GA community...and I see it every time I visit institutions like UND.  

That passion also means that all of us are hesitant to take any risks—real or perceived—when it comes to the regulations that could threaten our ability to fly or otherwise participate. 

For many years, being honest about mental health has been one of those risky areas. I’m here to tell you that it’s a perceived risk, though, and we’re doing our best at the FAA to make that clear.  

So let’s start with this: It is a misconception that if you report a mental health issue, you will never fly again ... It’s just not true.  

In fact, only about 0.1% of applicants for a medical certificate who disclose health issues are ultimately denied a medical, and then only after an exhaustive attempt to “get to yes”. 

The important thing to stress to our pilots is to please ask for help when any symptoms begin, and to treat the underlying conditions before your health degrades. The worse these conditions become, the harder it is for us to get you back in the air.

We—all of us—do our best every day to improve safety, but there are always wakeup calls.  

In March 2015, Germanwings Flight 9525 was a wakeup call about pilot mental health.  

The industry responded by putting more emphasis on aircrew peer support networks, where pilots with concerns could talk to other pilots who were specifically trained to help.  

The idea is to remove the stigma of mental health problems, and it works. This is similar to the work that the airline industry did in the 1990s to remove the stigma around alcoholism.  

We’ve made changes at the FAA since then too, increasing mental health training for our medical examiners … and building up our staff to include multiple psychiatrists, psychologists, and even a neuropsychologist.  

And we’re continuing to evolve, and reevaluate every aspect of mental health. 

It’s clear from your efforts in setting up this summit that John Hauser’s tragic last flight was a wakeup call for general aviation, and I want to offer my—and the entire FAA’s—condolences to John’s family.  

It is my hope that through you—his friends and colleagues—we can further remove the stigma and fear around mental health. These issues have been in our community for much too long.  

I want you to know that the FAA, and all of our medical professionals, led by our Federal Air Surgeon, Dr. Susan Northrup, are your partners on this journey.  

I’m proud of the work all of you are doing here, and I trust you will have a very productive summit. 

Thank you for listening.