This week, the aviation community suddenly found itself at the center of the troubling issue of suicide in America. As tragic and dramatic as this one suicide in Austin proved to be, those who influence and make public policy have a responsibility to keep this event in perspective.
Each year, there are more than 30,000 suicides in America. Even more disturbing, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that there are 25 suicide attempts for every suicide death. The figures, and the human suffering they represent, are overwhelming.
But the fact is that pilots are a remarkably healthy group of individuals, both physically and psychologically. We have medical examinations on a regular basis. We report the medications we use and the ailments we have to certified medical examiners. The FAA even determines what medications are allowable for pilots to take.
Sadly there are exceptions to every rule, as the tragic events in Austin demonstrated. Even so, an examination of aircraft accidents over the past 20 years found fewer than two suicides per year involving aircraft. Compare that to the 750,000 annual suicide attempts, and it seems evident that the aviation community contributes little to this national problem.
Still, there is already speculation about what we must do to ensure that images like those we’ve seen from Austin are never seen again. As always, the aviation community remains committed to protecting the freedom to fly while maintaining the highest levels of safety and security. We believe strongly that any response to this terrible incident must be appropriate, reasonable, and effective.
Let’s make sure that any examination of public policy is thoughtful and any resulting proposals are well-considered. The response to this isolated event must recognize that America is home to 600,000 pilots who annually fly more than 26 million hours using general aviation and who daily make tremendous contributions to the nation using aircraft for business, humanitarian, commercial, charitable, and personal missions.