Pilots who are fighting an addiction can seek confidential help to save their careers
Hylton Ward, a charter operator based in Winton in north-west Queensland, admits his heavy drinking threatened his flying career.
‘I didn’t start drinking really till I was about 21 … it was a means of socialising,’ he says.
‘I had a lot going on [later] and the stress levels were probably way over the top. A couple of things happened very quickly and that resulted in me doing what would normally fix it, which would, of course, be drinking more. And we all know that exacerbates the problem.
‘I was losing things that I cared deeply about and it all happened very quickly. I realised that with the amount of alcohol I was drinking, I may never fly again.’
Hylton talks candidly about his past problems on a podcast, Flying straight – piloting a sober life, where people from the aviation industry share their experiences of living life free of alcohol and drugs.
It was created by Andrew O’Meally, an airline pilot who is president of AusHIMS, a not-for-profit organisation getting pilots back into the air after they learn how to manage their addiction.
Hylton says life in remote areas can be very lonely and many of those places have developed a culture of heavy drinking.
‘I knew I had a problem and I needed to deal with it,’ he says. ‘And, of course, in this industry, you’ve got to be very careful how you deal with it – you don’t want the whole world knowing.
‘I tried to do it by myself by talking to doctors and other people, so it wasn’t like I hadn’t talked to anybody.’
He says the turning point was contacting AusHIMS. ‘The team got together and made a bit of a plan for me to move forward, which is what is needed,’ he says. ‘And no, I didn’t stop straight away.’
Hylton has now been sober for six years and encourages people who want to give up drinking not to lose hope. ‘Pick up the phone or talk to your friends – it’s all about just connecting with people.’
Today is R U OK? Day, a national campaign reminding people that having meaningful conversations could change a life.