Deep Blue and EASA together in the MESAFE project

MESAFE stands for MEntal health for aviation SAFEty and is a new research project launched by EASA to update the current EU standards for mental health assessment in aviation.

Following a call for tender the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has awarded a contract to the Italian SME Deep Blue. The project will be funded by the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme and addresses the challenges of the effective implementation of the Aeromedical certification process for pilots and air traffic controllers (ATCOs) with regard to the incapacitation risk associated with mental health conditions. In particular, it aims at providing evidence-based recommendations for new medical developments for the early diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions which could pose a safety risk for aviation, and would consequently lead to pilots and ATCOs unfitness or the limitation of their medical certificate for safety purposes.

“Currently, there are no specific, validated mental health assessment methods for aviation use, incorporating the specific operational needs, to address the issues identified. Research is needed to further detail the specific needs, and to develop and validate assessment methods or to assess the applicability of existing methods for use in the aviation environment” claims Willy Sigl, Senior Research Officer at EASA, explaining the need for a dedicated research action.

On the same page, Paola Tomasello, Senior Aviation Psychologist and Technical lead of MESAFE at Deep Blue: “The dramatic Germanwings accident and other similar and also recent accidents demonstrated that the incapacitation related to mental disorders shall be considered as a new safety hazard for the aviation industry. This requires attention and questions the traditional aeromedical certification approach, used to study the mental processes of safety-critical operators from the point of view of cognitive functions at disadvantage of an assessment of personality, stress coping strategies and ultimately emotional regulation and stability. MESAFE includes the study of mental health as one of the prioritised topics in the area of health to be updated in Aviation Medicine. This brings about a change of perspective, intended to hinder stigma and trivialization towards mental illness, as well as to deliver a message in which the safety of aviation operations relies on the mental health of professionals in charge of generating it.”

Started in May 2022, MESAFE will last 24 months and will produce 3 main outputs:

A DYNAMIC MENTAL FITNESS ASSESSMENT PROCESS for the protection of aviation safety, intended to support the long-term and strategic decision making of aeromedical examiners and medical assessors. The process includes evidence-based recommendations for:

  • the definition of the incapacitation risk levels for each type of aeromedical certification;
  • mental health assessment methods and treatment options suitable for aeromedical mental fitness assessments;
  • mitigation measures for temporary and permanent loss of licence;
  • guidance material on the updates to the process of mental fitness assessment of applicants.

 

POLICY MAKING RECOMMENDATIONS including in particular:

  • evidence-based recommendations for updating the mental health certification requirements in Part-MED and Part-ATCO.MED in line with the medical developments
  • an impact assessment of the recommended regulatory changes.

 

A HUMAN-CENTRED TOOLKIT aimed at peer support groups, including:

  • innovative strategies for proactive monitoring and management of pre-clinical signs and symptoms of psychological discomfort;
  • evidence-based recommendations for stress management at individual and group levels;
  • guidance material on mental health assessment and updates to the mental fitness certification process.

 

“The project is outstanding and strategic for the aviation community and extremely delicate at the same time. – admits Paola Lanzi, Project Manager of MESAFE at Deep Blue. “We are thrilled and honoured to manage it on behalf of and in cooperation with EASA. The project enlarges the current models and approaches of the Human Factors (HF) discipline by including mental health among the conditions that might affect human performance and safety. HF involves all the aspects connected to the way human beings engage with the operational environment surrounding them. MESAFE highlights that the state of well-being of the operators, also from the perspective of mental health, shall be considered an enabling factor for aviation safety”.

More info on the EASA website.

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