A French appeals court has ruled Air France and Airbus must face involuntary manslaughter charges for the crash twelve years ago of an Air France Airbus en route from Rio to Paris. Air France is charged with insufficient training of its pilots. Airbus is charged with underestimating the seriousness of a known speed indication problem.

The plunge of this airliner into the ocean was — and still is — particularly troubling to persons with fear of flying. It resonates with their terror of “falling out of the sky.” Since this problem developed due to weather conditions, it reinforces the fear…


It’s back. The 737 Max is now, once again, legal to fly. It reminds me of those stories about a person accused of a crime they didn’t commit. The cops frame him. A zealous prosecutor offers a plea deal of a few years to avoid a trial that might mean a life sentence or the death penalty. So the guy takes it.

A third-world airline — one that for years required copilots to work for free — had a problem with a Max five flights in a row. …


Everyone has psychological defenses. The defenses a mentally healthy uses again anxiety are not a problem. When stress hormones are released, we feel alarm. But our parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and down-regulates alarm to interest.

But a person who lacks the programming needed to down-regulate alarm uses psychological defenses that are a problem. The heavy-duty psychological defenses needed to obliterate anxiety distort reality.

When the parasympathetic system cannot bring alarm down to a tolerable level, psychological defenses step in to block awareness or to distort reality, or both. We see this in our leaders. When reality threatens their political…


One of the most important dynamics in psychology was discovered by neurological researcher and professor of psychiatry Stephen Porges. He recently published an article based on his discovery in the journal Clinical Neuropsychiatry. It is titled, “The COVID-19 Pandemic is a Paradoxical Challenge to Our Nervous System: A Polyvagal Perspective.” He summaries his discovery in one tightly packed paragraph. If you are not already familiar with his work, it may not be decipherable. I’ll paste it here for you to read, and then we’ll unpack it.

Our defense repertoire is first expressed as chronic mobilization requiring activation of the sympathetic…


Respirators are available that provide protection that approaches 100%. Why are we not being told?

In a Medscape article, Dean Blumberg, MD of UIC Davis is quoted as saying a “standard rectangular surgical mask … will decrease the risk of infection to the person wearing the mask by about 65% . . . .” and homemade masks also “should work quite well.” He added that the more effective masks should be reserved for medical professionals. In other words, people like him.

No pilot would take off in a plane that crashed 35% of the time or eject from a fighter…


Flight re-testing of the 737 MAX is complete. The re-testing was aimed at proving the safety and reliability of the redesigned MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System). The redesign was not needed. Not needed, that is, where the plane is properly maintained and flown by well-trained pilots.

Maintenance Standards. There were no problems with the MCAS in the U.S., Canada, Europe, South America, Mexico, Japan, or Australia. That is because maintenance standards are good in these countries.

Pilot Standards. But even if there were a malfunction of the MCAS in these countries, the pilots — because training standards are high —…


Once a panic attack has started, you can’t help yourself. All those tips about stopping a panic attack are useless. What you are about to learn will stop panic before it can start. You can keep panic from happening again. The first step is to understand the processes involved.

1. As the amygdala monitors what is going on, it is sometimes triggered to release stress hormones.

What triggers it? The amygdala is genetically programmed to release stress hormones when it senses anything unfamiliar or unexpected. Though such things sometimes mean danger, they may be benign. Your high-level thinker and decision-maker—…


We all have a calming system. It is called the parasympathetic nervous system. It opposes the sympathetic nervous system, the system that revs us up when we are stressed. But — and here is the problem — the calming system can oppose the system that stresses us only if we have a built-in program to activate it.

A young child automatically activates the system that gets them upset, but they can’t operate the system that calms them down.

If a child has an emotionally secure relationship with its caregivers, it builds memories of the relationship inside. A secure relationship —…


Researcher Stephen Porges discovered that we unconsciously send and receive signals that potentially can have a powerful calming effect on the recipient. Our calming system is called the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Signals transmitted by the face, by voice quality, and by touch or body-language activate the PNS when they indicate safety,

When a parent’s signals indicate the child is safe physically, the child’s calming system is moderately activated. When the parent’s signals indicate the child is safe both physically and emotionally, the signals fully activate the child’s calming system.

For the signals to convey physical safety, the parent must…


In this time of crisis, we need balanced thinking. What isn’t often recognized is that balanced thinking depends upon balanced emotion.

The evidence for this goes back at least to 1908 when Harvard psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson found the ability to use high-level thinking — now called executive function — depends upon arousal being neither too high nor too low.

If our autonomic nervous system works well, it regulates arousal automatically. In a temporary crisis, the sympathetic nervous system revs us up. Our heart rate and breathing rate increase. Energy to deal with the crisis is redirected from…

Capt Tom Bunn

Tom Bunn is a retired airline captain and licensed therapist. He is the originator of the SOAR Fear of Flying Program.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store