Delta Pilot Indicted for Lying About Depression. Could That Make Problems Worse?

A Delta pilot has been indicted for lying to the FAA in order to be certified to fly, claiming that he didn’t suffer depression even though he had sought help from the Department of Veterans Affairs for a “major depressive disorder.”

The pilot had claimed his VA disability benefits for covering “knee strain and tinnitus.” The pilot is not flying for Delta as a result.

This issue perfectly encapsulates the catch-22 faced in dealing with pilot mental health issues. If he hadn’t sought treatment, he’d be able to fly. He needed to lie about his treatment to fly for Delta. But you want a pilot to seek treatment, not fly without it.

You don’t want clinically depressed pilots in the cockpit, but if you ban them from the cockpit they won’t raise their hand and seek treatment they’ll try to hide it so they don’t lose their job. And that’s worse.

  • Silk Air flight 185 from Jakarta to Singapore was crashed by its pilot in 1997.
  • Germanwings 9525 from Barcelona–El Prat to Dusseldorf was crashed by the co-pilot in an apparent suicide in 2015.
  • Two other incidents in between, EgyptAir 990 and LAM Mozambique Airlines Flight 470, are possible cases of pilot suicide as well.

Copyright: viewapart / 123RF Stock Photo

These incidents are incredibly rare, and stand out because there aren’t very many of them. However it’s an issue that safety agencies and airlines have sought to tackle for years.

One estimate says pilots suffer from depression at twice the rate of the general population. In 2010 the FAA allowed pilots to fly while on anti-depressants. They don’t want to force pilots to hide the challenges they face or to go untreated. And being depressed isn’t necessarily dangerous.

At the same time many pilots may think that anyone checking up on them is looking for an excuse to ground them. There are cultural issues that make it difficult to get help, and consequences for those who need the most help for getting it. So even ostensibly ‘safe spaces’ in which to seek treatment, such as through pilots unions, face challenges. There is no simple answer here but it’s one airlines, pilot unions, and the FAA need to work collaboratively towards.

American’s latest podcast for employees turns out to be about this very issue.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Yep, just more evidence that we have a long way to go to deal with how mental health issues continue to be stigmatized in society.

  2. Ever since Reagan got rid of the federal funding for mental health, there have been huge issues with the social backlash for admitting you have an issue and need help.

    The amount of harm that man did to our nation is incredible, and nearly 4 decades later we’re still dealing with it.

  3. He apparently had been certified by the VA as too disabled to work and was receiving disability payments as a consequence of his disability. at the same time, he claims he is fit to fly for Delta and receive a full paycheck for that, too. Which is it? Seems like more of character issue than a mental issue.

    The issue with this guy is that what he did is fraudulent and its a criminal violation since he is taking money from the government to not work. The fact that he feels he needs two paychecks is the issue. We are better off with him out of the cockpit. I don’t want my airplane to be piloted by a felon.

  4. So the article is about a guy but the pucture shows an attractive female pilot inferring that the pictured person is the depressed pilot. Do you really need the clicks that much?

  5. Yeah, that’s pretty low, Gary. If someone didn’t actually read the piece, they would’ve been left with the impression that the pilot in question was a woman, thereby feeding all the old stereotypes about women being too emotional to handle a job that demands calm under pressure. I’m a straight, white, middle-aged dude and I find this offensive. If I were one of the small minority of women pilots, I’d be pretty pissed.Well done, Mr. Professional Travel Blogger, well done.

  6. Wait, you’re complaining that someone who did not read the article might assume it said something it didn’t say? I wrote a post about pilots and used a stock photo of a pilot, it never occurred to me that someone might think someone else might draw an erroneous conclusion but women face depression as well as men and the post isn’t ‘about’ one Delta pilot it is about how a serious issue that effects everyone is dealt with for pilots…

  7. OK, I am actually a professional in the field.
    Up to 12% of the general population is affected by a psychiatric condition at some point.
    There are 827 000 pilots in the US. Rough numbers, over 100 000 therefore are in this cohort.
    Psychiatric conditions, like any other medical condition, have a spectrum. You may have a cold, or Pneumonia. The system forces everybody “underground,” as they might just have a very mild condition, but they will lose their license if they reveal any psychiatric problem.
    This case is about someone who is abusing the system, and gets caught.
    And WTF does this have to do with Ronald Reagan? It actually is Trump’s fault… LOL.

  8. Gary I was not detracting from the content of the article in any way … my comment was about the choice and thinking involved with the “stock photo”. Surely you have more than one stock photo? Unfortunately in this era of click bait posts I guess I expected a reputable blog like yous to take the usual high road and be careful to not publish any thing that resembles click bait.

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