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Answers to frequently asked questions concerning CISM

Since 1994  the Mayday Foundation (Stiftung Mayday) has supported crew members in distress. Day  and night 340 specially trained volunteers are available to assist with the work of the Foundation. This group is comprised of professional and private pilots, flight attendants, emergency medical personnel, mental health professionals and psychologists.

The intensive cooperation, the exchange of experiences and information with international CISM-teams has led to a worldwide network of similar skilled people.

Mayday Foundation forms part of a world-wide network with international CISM-teams through intensive cooperation, information exchange and sharing experiences.

Here are the answers to frequently asked questions concerning our CISM work.

What does CISM mean?
CISM is short for Critical Incident Stress Management, a method developed by the American ICISF (International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc.) to support rescue teams after critical incidents.

The United Nations have formally approved their method and implement it when handling critical incidents.
What is the difference between CISM and the Mayday Foundation?
The Mayday Foundation supports current or former flight license holders and their next-of-kin who are in distress. This support, often short-term, may sometimes last over years and covers a wide range of situations and circumstances.

CISM support forms part of the work of the Foundation. It is limited to the immediate support after critical incidents or accidents. CISM support is offered to ALL crew members involved.

Which “critical incidents” require a CISM-team?

Common reasons for calling the CISM hotline are: On-board medical emergencies, accidents due to diversions, unruly passengers, smoke and fire, extensive system losses, problems due to severe weather conditions, hijacking and terrorist attacks, natural disasters, emotional pressure due to emergency landings, and any other situations which cause significant mental distress.

What are the main features which define a “Critical Incident”?
When the life and/ or physical safety of a crew member or a person in close proximity is or seems to be threatened. The individual's perception of the incident is more significant than the actual outcome of the incident. A critical incident usually occurs unexpectedly and often confronts the person concerned with feelings of helplessness.
What happens when someone calls the 24/7 CISM-Hotline of the Mayday Foundation?

The hotline assistant records basic details e.g. a contact number where the caller can be reached and then seeks a CISM-Coordinator who is specifically trained and highly experienced. This Coordinator will call back and organize all necessary steps.

What happens if someone calls the CISM-Team on behalf of someone else?
In general we expect that the affected person itself will contact the CISM-Team. If this is not the case, the referring person is asked to arrange a personal introduction between the CISM-Team-Member and the person affected as soon as possible.
What is the call-back response time? If it takes longer, why is that?

All CISM-Team-Members are volunteers. The goal for the maximum time for a call-back is 6 hours. However the average call-back time was 22 minutes last year. A response time of six hours is an uncommonly rare occurrence (less than 0.4% of all responses).

Isn’t a “maximum of 6 hours” too long to wait?
No. Emotional processing takes time, so there is no need for an immediate rapid intervention directly after the incident. Usually, a comprehensive “operational debriefing” among persons affected by the incident facilitates a thorough mental review of what had happened. The CISM care than intensifies this process as part of its work and is a form of “first aid”, activating and encouraging the individual's own healing process. To mentally handle a critical incident it requires discreet and adequate care. CISM provides very differentiated, well structured, and efficient mental and emotional care.
What are the different CISM strategies which are used?
  • Preparational Information
  • Teaching
  • Operational Debriefing
  • One-on-One interview (in person or over the phone)
  • Defusing
  • CMB-Crisis Management Briefing
  • Demobilisation
  • CIS-Debriefing
  • Referral
  • Family-Care
What is the difference between an “Operational Debriefing” and a "CIS-Debriefing"?
  • An "Operational Debriefing" is conducted by the Commander, involves the entire crew and takes place immediately after the incident. The process takes about 15 minutes and is limited to reviewing the facts and perceptions. The intention is to assess whether further CISM-care is necessary.
  • A "CIS-Debriefing" generally takes place approximately 72 hours or even later after the incident. The process is facilitated by trained CISM-Team members, who are not part of the crew involved in the incident, and takes between 2 up to 3.5 hours. This process is more comprehensive and addresses facts and perceptions, as well as individual reactions and shows ways to cope and heal.
What CISM-measures can be taken by a crewmember involved in an incident?

Generally none other than providing general information (e.g. during an “Operational Debriefing”). Apart from this a CISM-Team-member shall never act within the context of his/her own crew.

Are there CISM-Teams on stand-by, for example at certain airports?

No, the high cost of such a service makes this impossible. 

In the event an incident is reported, all CISM-Team-members are alerted by SMS via an internet based system and are appointed during their free-time.

What crews will be attended to at the airport?

Subject to the availability of a CISM-Team-member, every crew member requesting help will receive such assistance.  

If no CISM-Team-member is available in due time, the CISM-Coordinator on duty will organize that the requesting crew member is contacted as soon as possible.

Who will be informed about those measures?

All personal information is bound to professional confidentiality. No CISM-Team member will provide information about any circumstances concerning a crewmember.

How about labor-law consequences ?

The focus of every CISM-measure is to address the mental and emotional impact of a critical incident and is subject to professional confidentiality. No labor-law questions are discussed during any CISM-measure.

When do CISM-teams sign someone off sick?


CISM supports healthy people, who are presenting normal, yet unanticipated responses, to an abnormal incident. As the people concerned show normal reactions of a healthy person, no diagnosis of illness is required. However, it may make sense to take a short break before the next flight to allow the reactions on the stressful situation to dissipate. At the request of the person concerned, the CISM-Team may recommend this to the employer. 

There is no legal entitlement for extra days off after a critical incident.

Does a legal right exist to call upon CISM?

Airlines are required to provide care after a critical incident or accident. To ensure the necessary confidentiality, many airlines co-operate with the independent Mayday Foundation.

What action is taken, if something happens abroad?
There will always be an initial contact with the crew and a first short teaching advice is given, often via the telephone. Our main support is provided after the return to home base.
Is there a national and/or international CISM-network?

Yes, about 1200 CISM-Teams operate worldwide, forming an extensive international network. Nationally, such teams may be known by other names, e.g.  Crisis Intervention Team, Stress Recovery after Critical Incidents Team, Emergency Pastoral Care etc. If and when necessary the Mayday Foundation collaborates with these institutions to address critical incidents. Internationally we co-operate with the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF), the CISM-teams of other airlines and/or their labor unions (e.g. TWU-Transport Workers Union, ALPA-Airline Pilots Association) and, when necessary, the United Nations (UNDSS-United nations Department of Safety and Security).

Do CISM-Teams only support airline-crews?

No. Mayday Foundation supports all pilots and aircrew affected by a critical incident.

Do you support non-members of the Mayday Foundation as well?
Does Mayday Foundation only support German citizens?

No. As part of a world-wide network, we endeavor to provide a trained CISM-Team comprised of different cultural and/or linguistic backgrounds.

What happens to my personal data?

Personal data are bound by confidentiality and are restricted to the CISM-Team of Stiftung Mayday for the duration of the support. Three months later no one else than the Clinical Director (CD) of the CISM-Team holds access of these individual data. As a professional psychologist the CD is bound to professional discretion. The CD decides when these data are made anonymous by clearing them out into a general statistic without any possible reference to an individual person.

If required, will CISM care over a longer period?

Yes and No. 

No because the Foundation’s CISM-Teams is trained and specialized to provide only “First Aid” shortly after the critical incident happened. As a result we are able to reduce the long-term after-effects of severe critical incidents from 4% to 0.8%. The remaining 0.8% will need a long-term therapy and are referred to specialist psychologists.

Yes, because the Foundation makes sure that the person concerned will receive support for as long as necessary.

What if the incident happened some time ago?

In a private conversation it will be checked with the person concerned if therapeutic measures will help to overcome the aftereffects.  If so, we refer to a specialist for treatment of traumatized patients.

How often does the CISM-Team operate?
Presently our CISM-Team is requested to assist crew about five times per week. During 2010 we assisted 503 CISM interventions: 31 group and 472 individual interventions either way, intensity and length. 61 persons were referred for therapy. Many individual interventions took place over the telephone

A further 874 further conversations were conducted, in addition to those assessed.
Which are the areas of emphasis?
During the past few years there is an increasing emphasis on the effect of death on-board a flight, passengers or colleagues alike. (2008: 54 times)

The reasons are that many crew members are insufficiently or totally unprepared to be confronted with a deseased person and to handle the subsequent circumstances. Very often this results in psychological after-effects.

Subsequently we have worked with Airline-departments concerned, recommending more comprehensive preparation of flight attendants during “First-Aid-Training”.

Consequently in 2008 there were only 16 requests for CISM-support resulting from death on-board.
How much does a CISM-support cost?

The costs for a CISM-support for airline employees is borne by the participating airlines, which then settle costs among themselves. 

All other CISM-support is borne by the Mayday Foundation and free of charge for the person affected. 

All CISM-Team members work in an honorary basis. The Foundation refunds expenses such as transportation and telephone costs.

Who finances the CISM-work?

The costs for a CISM-support for airlineemployees of participating airlines are payed by the airline. All other costs involving aviation in general, quality control, the international network, the supervision of the members and the running costs of the Foundation are “in principle” financed by donations. “In principle”  because all the work is done by volunteers, spending much of their free time and energy on the “Mayday Foundation Project”. Their dedication is worth significantly more than the Foundation spends on expenses involved with providing support.

Which airlines and organisations are participating?
  • AeroDienst
  • AeroLogic
  • Augusburg Airways
  • Avanti Air
  • Cirrus
  • Condor
  • Condor Berlin
  • ContactAir
  • DCAviation
  • Eurowings
  • Germanwings
  • Lufthansa Cargo
  • Lufthansa City Line
  • Lufthansa Passage
  • Lufthansa Flight Training
  • InterCockpit PilotTrainingNetwork
  • NetJets Europe
  • Thyssen-Krupp
  • TUIfly
  • Vereinigung Cockpit

(As of  January 2013)

Where do the team members come from, how are they selected?

All members of the CISM-Team are volunteers and come from all domains of active aviation. After an initial interview with the Clinical Director of the CISM-Team, all candidates attend a practise-oriented training to demonstrate aptitude.

What training is provided to the team-members?
All CISM-Team members are required to participate in a three-day basic training and a two-day advanced training course. Thereafter they attend a biennial two-day refresher. All training meets the criteria of the ICISF international standard and beyond.
What does the Mayday Foundation training cost?

The training costs are paid by the participating airlines and organizations. The costs depend on venue, number of participants and instructors. The Foundation does not offer training to the “free market” but refers to experienced ICISF-licensed instructors, who train on their own account.

Whom can I refer to, if I have further questions?
If you have questions concerning CISM for the attention to a CISM-Coordinator please call our Hotlines +49(0)70077007703 and +49(0)700CISMTEAM.

For general questions you may contact the Mayday Foundation (Stiftung Mayday):


Telephone: +49 (0) 70077007701 (normal German office hours).

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Stiftung Mayday
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