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January 20, 2021

Offshore pilots to create mental health support network

Leading British, Canadian, and Belgian helicopter operators Bristow Helicopters, CHC, NHV, and Babcock have collaborated to lead a peer assistance network to support the mental health of offshore pilots.

By Yoana Cholteeva

A group of 21 people from across the companies’ bases have been identified and each company has invested in putting them through mental health first aid and peer support training to ensure a unified support approach through the network.

Upcoming changes to regulations put in place by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency require all UK operators to have a peer assistance network in place by February 2021.

These networks must be overseen by a qualified aviation psychologist, with peers selected and trained from across the workforce to ensure availability for colleagues in all locations and disciplines.

Bristow Helicopters UK and Turkmenistan oil and gas director Matt Rhodes said: “We believe this is the first collaborative network in the UK, and we’ve already received positive feedback from the Civil Aviation Authority on how we’re working together.

“Mental health is an extremely important issue, particularly in the aviation sector where it can have catastrophic results if support needs are not identified and help given when it’s needed most. Offshore pilots operate in a unique environment so in partnership with CHC, NHV, and Babcock, we felt it was important to create a meaningful support system for crews where they can seek confidential help from those who understand the pressures of their role.”

According to Environmental Health research,  hundreds of active pilots are managing depressive symptoms, perhaps without the possibility of treatment due to fear of negative career impacts.

The study found that 12.6% out of the 3,485 surveyed airline pilots meet depression threshold and 74.1% of pilots reported having suicidal thoughts.

The four helicopter operators began first discussions to create the platform in 2019, recognising the value in a collective group, to ensure genuine peer understanding of offshore helicopter pilots and the impact of the challenges they face in their work.

Bristow hosted the first meeting of the network in July 2020 and the group has since then created a dedicated website, which enables crew from all companies to seek advice and resources from one central location.

The group is run independently to guarantee confidentiality and peers will meet regularly to review activity and identify any areas of concern.

UK psychological firm Core Aviation Psychology has also been appointed as a third-party qualified aviation psychologist to provide guidance when needed.

“The last year has undoubtedly been difficult for everyone, and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on mental health are yet to be fully understood. We feel confident that this network will play a vital role in supporting our crews and look forward to working together with our fellow helicopter operators to deliver this service across our combined UK sites,” Rhodes added.

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