Aviation industry ignores mental health
27/05/2019 | Author: Robyn Ironside Aviation Writer @ The Australian
A former Etihad Airways pilot has spoken out about the blase attitude towards mental health in the aviation industry after his own struggle to have his licence cancelled.
Finian Greene, 50, realised he was not coping a few months after a serious incident involving an Etihad Boeing 777 on a service from Abu Dhabi to Sydney on September 27, 2016. There were 352 people on board the flight and as the nose wheel lifted off the ground the tyre separated, sending a large chunk of rubber through the left engine.
“Witnesses heard a loud bang and saw a large fireball as the engine destroyed itself basically, but we had to continue because we were beyond a speed that would allow us to safely stop,” Mr Greene said. “So we continued the take-off and approximately 35 minutes later we got the aircraft back and did an overweight landing; a very fast, single-engine landing and we used up the whole of the runway.”
After the passengers disembarked, Mr Greene inspected the damage and saw there were tyre marks that went to the right hand engine as well.
“We found out later that yes, tyre tread did make its way down towards the right engine and deflected off the engine cowl,” he said. “We were very lucky it didn’t go through that engine as well or it would’ve been a very different story for the 352 people on board.”
An investigation into the incident found foreign object debris on the runway at Abu Dhabi was responsible, and new measures were put in place to address the issue.
After a full debrief and five days off, Mr Greene returned to regular flying but soon realised something was very wrong.
“I suspected my performance was deteriorating significantly to the extent of it being dangerous,” he said. “One of my last flights was out of Amsterdam and I knew from there I was deeply in trouble because I was just looking in on myself.”
He returned to his family in Australia for some time off and let the vice-president of medical services with Etihad know he needed help before he was returned to the flying roster.
Despite her assurances that would happen, when Mr Greene went back to Abu Dhabi no appointments were scheduled and he said the medical services vice-president refused to take his calls.
“They wanted to keep me on the roster and towards the end I was just begging, saying ‘I cannot fly’,” he said.
After several more weeks, Mr Greene went back to Sydney to seek psychiatric help for post-traumatic stress disorder.
After 18 months of therapy, Mr Greene said the professional opinion was that it would be dangerous for him to fly again.
During this time, he had no contact from Etihad and eventually realised his job had been terminated without any of his entitlements being paid, despite almost 10 years of service.
“I had a mate say come work for another airline and don’t say anything, just pretend nothing’s happened and go from there, but I said there’s no way I would do that,” he said. “But now as time has gone on and I’m fighting for a loss of licence, I can understand why people would do it, which is completely wrong, of course.”
As well as being disillusioned by his experience in the Middle East, Mr Greene said he felt let down by the United Arab Emirates General Civil Aviation Authority, the International Civil Aviation Organisation and pilots associations.
“With what my family and I have gone through post-incident, it does not surprise me that pilots choose to keep mental issues to themselves,” he said. “This, of course, is wrong.”
Etihad did not respond to questions from The Australian.