A former Flybe pilot has won a case against British leisure airline for unfair firing. But after the story circulated the media, the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) is defending him again, claiming there is more to the story than a pilot with a “fear of flying”.

The pilot in question, M.G., was working for Flybe from 2007 as  first officer, flying a Bombardier Dash-8 Q400 turboprop aircraft. In 2014 he switched to flying Embraer E-Jets. However, at the same time he began experiencing what at first seemed like “air sickness” and was later concluded to be an “anxiety-related condition”. After consecutively leaving and returning to work for three times, M.G. was  eventually fired in 2017.

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On July 25, 2018, the European Union (EU) published new safety rules on air operations, with new provisions to better support the mental fitness of air crew.
 

Despite agreeing with the importance of airline safety and admiting there were "real" concerns about the pilot's safety to fly, judge Tom Coghlin QC writes in a judgement: “In my judgment no reasonable employer would have failed to take this [medical] evidence into account”. In October 2018, the U.K. Employment tribunal ruled M.G.'s dismissal as unfair.

The news about a pilot with a “fear of flying” caught on in the media, to which BALPA released a statement on November 12, 2018, which read:

"The reason for [M.G.]'s dismissal has been misrepresented in the press. Contrary to the press reports, [M.] did not experience 'fear of flying'. The up-to-date medical evidence, as reported in the judgment, cites a temporary social anxiety. At the time Flybe decided to dismiss [M.], all of the relevant medical experts confirmed that he was fit to return to work [...]”.

“[M.] took the sensible decision to request time off to deal with his condition and was unfairly dismissed as a result. We’re disappointed this has been so widely and inaccurately reported and it shows there is a long way to go in recognising and supporting workers affected by mental health issues. This could be hugely damaging to [M.] in gaining future employment and also to the likelihood of other pilots reporting similar mental health conditions to their employers in the future.”

Once again, the story highlights the issue (and the stigma) of pilot mental health, increasingly perceived as vital to aviation safety.

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Tim Davies is a flying instructor, public speaker and aviation consultant. He is also the author of the fastjetperformance.com blog, where, among various other things, he discusses the controversial topic of pilots’ mental wellbeing. He agreed to talk with AeroTime about how active duty pilots cope with mental health issues.