Since my last column, I now work for the FAA in the Aerospace Medical Certification Division. I hope to continue sharing insights with you about how to maintain your medical certification and fly safely.
I imagine you read the title of this article and asked, “What does HIMS stand for?” HIMS stands for Human Intervention Motivation Study. It originated as a collaboration between the FAA, the Air Line Pilots Association, and the major airlines as a program intended to return to the cockpit pilots who have a history of substance-use disorders such as alcohol or drug dependence.
As you can imagine, the founders of this program thought the public might have a strong reaction to an organization called the Alcoholic Pilot’s Program or similar, so they came up with an acronym that sought to be discreet. However, despite the public’s understandable concerns, HIMS is a highly successful program that allows experienced pilots to return to the cockpit safely after treatment, under close monitoring through their treatment providers, their employers, and the FAA.
A fundamental tenet of the HIMS program is that alcoholism is a disease. This applies to other substance-use disorders as well. These disorders are chronic, meaning they are lifelong; primary, meaning they exist independent of other medical or psychiatric disorders; and progressive, meaning they generally worsen over time.
Some people still believe alcoholism and drug abuse represent a character flaw. Modern medical science disagrees with this sentiment, and there is robust evidence that chemical dependency is treatable.