The co-pilot of an Airbus A319 on approach to land left the flightdeck after experiencing an anxiety attack, the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has revealed.

The report, published Sept. 12, said the co-pilot “experienced anxiety—which developed into an anxiety attack” during the approach to Glasgow International Airport, Scotland—on Sept. 30, 2018. “He could not continue to operate the aircraft and left the flightdeck,” the report stated.

The aircraft commander completed a single-pilot landing. There were no injuries.

According to the report, the episode was triggered by the co-pilot having experienced a go-around the previous day, which built up anxiety over the course of his shift the next day.

The AAIB does not identify airlines involved in incident reports, but the aircraft, G-EZGR, is identified on websites as having belonged to LCC easyJet since delivery in 2011.

The day before the incident, the report stated the commander and co-pilot had flown together from Glasgow to Palma de Mallorca, Spain; the co-pilot was flying. During the approach to Palma, at approximately 30 ft., “a change in the wind displaced the aircraft towards the runway edge, resulting in the aircraft commander taking control during the flare [the phase just before touchdown when the pilot pulls the nose up] and executing a go-around.”

The following day, the same commander and co-pilot flew together from Glasgow to London Stansted. The return flight proceeded normally with the co-pilot pilot flying the aircraft, which had 148 passengers and six crew on board.

“Over the course of this flight, the co-pilot began to suffer from anxiety,” the report noted. “During the approach, the commander mentioned windshear. Immediately after this, the co-pilot felt unable to continue to operate the aircraft and left the cockpit.”

An ambulance crew that met the aircraft after touchdown concluded the co-pilot had suffered an anxiety attack.

“The commander told AAIB investigators that he considered the co-pilot seemed ‘fine’ during the debrief after the Palma go-around. On the Palma-Glasgow return, the commander recalled that the co-pilot seemed ‘subdued’ and ‘annoyed with himself’ but the commander did not feel that there was cause for concern,” the reported said.

It continued: “The commander stated that on the morning of the incident flight he inquired about the co-pilot’s wellbeing, intending to reassure him but to keep the conversation light. At this point, and during the flights on the day of the incident, the commander did not observe any signs that the co-pilot was becoming distressed.

“The co-pilot reported that the wind change and go-around at Palma de Mallorca was the first time he had experienced this in the aircraft and he found it frightening. He did not feel able to make control inputs towards the center of the runway while floating in the flare and was afraid the aircraft would touch down at the edge of the runway.

“There were several conversations with the commander about the go-around before they flew again. The co-pilot said that he told the commander he had felt frightened and attempted to discuss the event with him. He also informed the commander he had not slept well. He did not feel able to discuss it further with him.”

The co-pilot said he “was aware of the procedures for reporting sick or fatigued, but as his report time was not early in the morning, he felt well enough to fly.

“The co-pilot reported that he felt increasingly nervous during the flights to and from Stansted and was ‘over-thinking’ the need to do a good approach. Eventually, his emotions and associated physical symptoms overwhelmed him,” the report stated.

At the time of the incident, the co-pilot was not aware of the peer support or employee assistance program offered by his employer. These provide the opportunity to talk about any issue in confidence to a trained person.

In its analysis of the incident, the AAIB said the commander and the co-pilot had different recollections of the interactions between them prior to the co-pilot’s incapacitation. This suggested they did not communicate effectively regarding the emotional issues the co-pilot was experiencing.

The report noted, “It was the co-pilot’s responsibility not to fly if he was unfit and to advise the commander if he felt he was becoming unfit at any point during the flights. In practice, this can be a difficult judgment for pilots to make. The co-pilot also hoped that if he could perform a good approach and landing, his confidence would be restored, so he was motivated to continue as usual.”

The report concluded: “The opportunity for the incident to occur might have been reduced by the co-pilot reporting unfit for duty, more effective communication between the co-pilot and the commander, and use of support available from peers or one of the official assistance programs.”

Alan Dron