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Support when you need it: BALPA’s Pilot Advisory Group.

by David Marshall BALPA Pilot Advisory Group

In my nearly 30 years of Counselling and Support work, I have identified many ‘headings’ under which the different types of calls can be grouped. One easy classification might be the ‘time taken to answer a query’. Sometimes a call to BALPA’s Pilot Advisory Group (PAG) can take one 5 minute conversation. In other situations, a series of conversations might go on for a couple of years before a situation is resolved.

The Pilot Advisory Group is a peer group of experienced, professional pilots, who are also trained counsellors, and are on hand to offer personal counselling and assistance in any matter concerning aviation or to any member who is in any sort of difficulty, whether it be of a professional or personal nature.

Over the many years I have been involved with PAG I have spoken to countless pilots on a huge range of topics. A problem at work, difficult home life, sickness, money worries and depression are just some examples of reasons people have picked up the phone or emailed me.

When people hit rock bottom

I have helped people who have hit rock bottom, those who have contemplated taking their own life. Our conversations are confidential and I have been a listening ear… there to help people though the toughest of times.

And our support doesn’t stop just with the pilot. I have been there for families of those struggling too.  Those who have been dealing with grief when a loved one has ended their life. These are the cases that often take months and years of support and continued calls.

A listening ear

With the pressures of COVID-19 the last few years have brought about particular challenges as people face huge uncertainty in their future.

No two phone-calls are the same. Often an issue at work triggers a call. At PAG we have people who have expertise in aviation and are able to understand the issues that arise.

I’ve dealt with everyday operational issues. Our understanding of the industry and contacts with company councils, company management and other aviation bodies mean we have the expertise to help members with aviation specific issues.

We’ve helped people with everything from a minor flight deck issue, to serious accidents and fatalities. I remember assisting a family as they dealt with the aftermath of an accident and were the centre of much unwanted attention from the media. We were able to talk the member and their family though this. We advised them on what to they might expect to happen, how best to avoid the unwanted attention from the media and where to go for some respite at this most vulnerable time.

Sometimes the operational issue that a member presents is simple and we can advise them or pass them on to relevant Company Councils, other reps or BALPA staff and experts.

Sometimes the calls we take are both work related and personal. An example is a call from a short-haul Captain who had been taking a walk on a day off when he started to feel odd. The next day, he still felt the same and so he went to his GP.  An examination revealed no clues to the cause, so he was sent to A & E where it was discovered that he had had a TIA- a mini stroke.

He rang me totally distraught believing that this was the end of his flying career- a complete disaster for someone who loved their job so much. I was able to help him stay calm and work out a plan.

His A.M.E. plus the GP worked closely together and an appointment at one of the world’s top hospitals was organised very quickly. Scans revealed he had a ‘hole in the heart’. Several procedures later, he was eventually declared fit. His licence was restored to use only in the multi-crew scenario and he went back to work, with a message from the management that he was only to work part- time! A real miracle unfolds!

People call PAG for many reasons. We have helped people though depression, we have helped families cope with grief, financial worries, medical issues and much more. Some calls are about a bad day at work while others about life changing events. Whatever the call, PAG’s trained counsellors with aviation expertise are here to listen.

Everything discussed on a PAG call is confidential. If you need to talk, pick up the phone or email.

Talk in Confidence to our Counsellors:

Hayley Brewis

David Marshall 

Katy Lee

Sean Walters 

Amanda Calnan 

Russ Jones