SINGAPORE: Hypoxia, a condition where your body doesn't receive enough oxygen, is just one of the many health risks that pilots face on the job. In a safety critical industry like aviation, such health complications can cost many lives.
To support the health needs of Singapore’s aviation workforce, a new centre was launched at the Changi General Hospital on Tuesday (Jun 11). It will cater to pilots, air traffic controllers as well as ground support staff.
Called the Changi Aviation Medicine Centre (CAMC), it is Singapore’s first aviation medicine centre to be established within a government restructured hospital.
Speaking at the launch, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Health Lam Pin Min highlighted the need for a "centre of excellence" in aviation medicine.
"With the anticipated traffic growth, we need to provide better support for aviation professionals who are at the centre of the aviation enterprise," he said.
"Aviation professionals need to cope with and adapt to increasing complexity, workload and pressures. Each vocation faces unique sets of work demands and stress."
Responding to CNA queries on how the medical issues faced by aircrew are different from those of the general population, director of CAMC Brian See said: "Whilst pilots are like any other persons, their job also takes them to unusual and physiological stressors in the flying environment such as hypoxia, pressure changes in the body, etc."
Treatments that cause side effects such as drowsiness may also not be suitable for pilots, he said.
"What CAMC strives to do is to work with Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to make sure that pilots ... can quickly go back to their duties in a medically safe manner," said Dr See.
The CAMC is also able to provide medical examinations customised for aviation professionals, such as the Maddox Wing test, that checks for squints or lazy eyes. This is important as peripheral vision is crucial to pilots.
Examinations like these are conducted by aviation medicine specialists who understand the health complexities faced by pilots.
The centre will consolidate the expertise of these specialists, all of whom have expertise in other disciplines such as psychiatry, cardiology and mental health, to provide the aviation professionals with "holistic care", said Dr Lam.
The centre will also support the industry by providing programmes to enhance operational safety in aviation, such as for sleep disorder and fatigue management, and it aims to help to improve the standard of patient care for aeromedical evacuations.
In his speech, Dr Lam highlighted the Collaborative Health Achievement and Motivation Programme (CHAMP) that was developed by the centre to address alcohol use disorder in the community.
"CHAMP offers aviators a highly customised and supportive programme involving the multidisciplinary expertise of a healthcare team comprising aviation medicine specialists, psychiatrists, counsellors, medical social workers and psychologists to achieve the best rehabilitation outcome," Dr Lam said.
"The programme also provides close monitoring and support by the healthcare team and peer para-counsellors to help aviators stay in remission."
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore tightened rules on alcohol abstention for pilots in March, after Singapore Airlines was forced to cancel a flight from Melbourne to Wellington when the pilot failed an alcohol test.
"CAMC will be able to provide holistic medical care to our aviation professionals, which will, in turn, benefit companies and the aviation system as a whole," said Dr Lam.