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International air tragedies put U.S. pilots under microscope

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The Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday it is working with the commercial aviation and medical communities to study U.S. commercial pilots’ emotional and mental health in light of the recent crash of one plane and the disappearance of another.

A joint government-industry group, the Commercial Aviation Safety Team, has recommended the study based on the 2014 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH-370 and the March crash of Germanwings flight 9525, the FAA said in a statement.

The new Pilot Fitness Aviation Rulemaking Committee will provide the FAA with recommendations within six months, the agency said. This group of U.S. and international government and industry aviation experts includes a working group of medical professionals who specialize in aerospace medicine.

“U.S. pilots undergo robust medical screening, but recent accidents in other parts of the world prompted the FAA to take a new look at the important issue of pilot fitness,” said the agency in its statement.

The FAA said the committee will examine issues including the awareness and reporting of emotional and mental health issues, the methods used to evaluate pilot emotional and mental health, and barriers to reporting such issues.

The FAA said based on the group’s recommendations, it may consider changes to medical methods, aircraft design, policies and procedures, pilot training and testing, training for aerospace medical examiners or potential actions that may be taken by professional airline or union groups. The meetings will not be open to the public.

The FAA said U.S. airline pilots undergo a medical exam with an FAA-approved physician every six or 12 months, depending upon the pilot’s age.