Delta Pilot Grounded After Denying Mental Health Disorder to the FAA

Sep 19, 2018

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A Delta Air Lines pilot has been grounded after making false statements regarding his mental health. Adam Asleson, 39, of Peachtree, GA, was indicted on August 28 for falsely reporting to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that he did not suffer from any mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety.

Asleson, who had previously been a US Air Force Pilot before joining Delta, had received help from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for a major depressive disorder. He allegedly reported to the FAA that he had received medical disability benefits for a knee strain and tinnitus, according to a press release from the US Attorney’s Office in Northern California.

Asleson and three other pilots have all been accused of denying the existence of medical conditions in which they were receiving disability benefits from the VA office. Each defendant was arrested and released on August 28 on a $10,000 bond and had to surrender their passports. Asleson will appear in court on October 3 and could face five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 if convicted.

“Delta pilots are held to the highest standards of professionalism, honesty and integrity,” a Delta spokeswoman said. “Once made aware of the situation, we opened an internal investigation and are working cooperatively with the authorities.” The airline expressed Asleson is no longer actively flying.

Asleson’s case points to a larger trend regarding pilots and mental health disorders. Following the tragic Germanwings crash in 2015 in which the pilot suffered from depression and deliberately crashed the plane, the FAA, as well as the EU, have been working to improve mental health evaluations in the aviation industry and encourage voluntary reporting of pilot mental health issues. However, pilot licenses and flying privileges may be suspended if health problems are reported to aviation authorities, thus explaining why a pilot like Asleson would deny his mental health disorder.

Additionally, several reports indicate that commercial airline pilots are at similar or potentially increased risks of experiencing depression as the general population. According to an anonymous survey of about 1,850 pilots from more than 50 countries, one in eight pilots may be clinically depressed, according to Reuters. Another survey regarding mental health completed by 1,848 pilots revealed that around 13% met the criteria for depression and roughly 4% reported having suicidal thoughts within the previous two weeks. A more recent analysis that examined 20 different studies found that commercial pilots experience occupational stressors such as disrupted circadian rhythms and fatigue, which can potentially increase the risk of developing mood disorders. The analysis also suggests there is a clear need for higher quality longitudinal studies to better understand the mental health of commercial airline pilots.

Featured image by Robert Alexander / Getty Images.

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