Flying blind a thing of the past for aviophobia sufferers

Does this sight make you feel anxious?Boeing aircraft replicas usually used to test and train cadet pilots are now being used to alleviate in-flight anxiety in aviophobia sufferers.

Jumping in the half-million dollar cockpit replica is a better option than the sleeping pills and alcohol that many people turn to, say the organisers of a new “Fear of Flying” course.

“This is the first course available in Australia doing this,” Flight Experience director Martin Stocks says.

“We’ve researched this over the last couple of years and implemented the course because we found that approximately 40 per cent of the population have a degree of anxiety that comes with flying.”

The course, which combines psychological counselling to determine the source of the fear, information sessions with a pilot and hands-on experience in the flight simulator, is now in its third month in Australia.

The simulator allows aviophobiacs to co-pilot a simulated flight out of Perth airport – with a lifelike 180-degree screen, sound effects and control panels – or choose from 25,000 international airports.

Psychologist Michelle Williams has been treating anxiety for 15 years and says the situation worsened after 9/11.

While psychologists do see success in treating aviophobia alone, the exposure to a pilot and the simulator fills the need for something that “can’t be provided in a session room”, she says.

“Up until now I’ve had to do all of the work with people and then send them into the world to try it out on their own,” Ms Williams says.

“Having the exposure here and meeting the pilots enhances the service a psychologist can provide around fear of flying.”

Fears differ between each person and can be a specific phobia of flying or planes, a panic disorder like agoraphobia or a social phobia concerned with being looked at or being stuck in a confined place with other passengers.

Ms Williams says cognitive behaviour therapy is the key to changing the thought patterns that turn an unusual noise or situation into a panic attack.

“There are differing degrees of fear but about ten per cent of adults will not get on a plane regardless of any incentive you give them,” she says.

“Someone who’s afraid of flying will get on a plane and hear the thuds on the runway and think ‘is that something dangerous, is that something falling off?’ and they will keep their fight or flight response going, whereas someone who isn’t afraid will think ‘oh they’re the usual noises, I hear them every time’ and their brain will say ‘slow down your breathing, it’s all going to be alright’.

“The strategies people learn in the course they can generalise out into fears of heights or others.”

Former pilot Chris Hall, who talks to course students about plane engineering, safety and pilot experience, says the misinformation surrounding air travel worsens peoples’ paranoia and gives them an exaggerated idea of the dangers of flying.

“People worry about flying because they don’t understand,” he says.

“The media doesn’t help because when you see a plane it’s usually in a drama situation.

“Like many people, I’m not happy up the top of a tree but I’ve flown 20,000 hours and I wouldn’t be doing it if it was dangerous.”

The course, which can take as little as three hours to complete but is tailored to each individual, has already had graduates take overseas flights.

“We recently had someone who for 25 years was unable to go back to his own country and we had an email from him to say how much he enjoyed his flight,” says Mr Stocks.

“The course is for us not just commercially viable, it’s extremely rewarding to see and meet people who have anxieties about flying and to know that we can change their lives.”

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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