Helicopter operators unite to create mental health support network for UK offshore pilots


BRISTOW Helicopters, CHC, NHV and Babcock have joined forces to lead a collaborative peer assistance network to support the mental health of offshore pilots in the UK.

Upcoming changes to regulations set out by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) require all UK operators to have an effective peer assistance network in place by February 2021.

Those networks must be overseen by a qualified aviation psychologist, with peers selected and trained from across the workforce to ensure availability for colleagues in all locations and disciplines.

All four north sea helicopter operators began discussions to create a joint platform in 2019, recognising the value in a collective group to ensure genuine peer understanding, bringing together their vast experience of the unique role of offshore helicopter pilots, and the challenges they face every day.

A group of 21 people from across the companies’ employee bases have been identified and each company has invested in putting them through mental health first aid and peer support training to ensure a unified approach to the support offered through the network.

Core Aviation Psychology has also been appointed as the third-party qualified aviation psychologist to provide guidance when required.

Matt Rhodes, director UK and Turkmenistan Oil & Gas at Bristow Helicopters said: “While Peer Assistance Networks will be a legal requirement this year, the research and policy development are largely based around fixed wing airlines with small operators, training establishments and helicopter operators less represented.

“We believe this is the first collaborative network in the UK, and we’ve already received positive feedback from the Civil Aviation Authority on how we’re working together.

“Mental health is an extremely important issue, particularly in the aviation sector where it can have catastrophic results if support needs are not identified and help given when it’s needed most. Offshore pilots operate in a unique environment so in partnership with CHC, NHV and Babcock, we felt it was important to create a meaningful support system for crews where they can seek confidential help from those who understand the pressures of their role.

“Bristow hosted the first meeting of the teams in July 2020 and the group has since created a dedicated website which enables crew from all companies to seek advice and resources from one central location.”

The group is run independently to ensure complete confidentiality and peers will meet regularly to review activity and identify any areas of concern.

Rhodes continued: “The last year has undoubtedly been difficult for everyone, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health are yet to be fully understood. We feel confident that this network will play a vital role in supporting our crews and look forward to working together with our fellow helicopter operators to deliver this service across our combined UK sites.”

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