Friday, April 10, 2015

Airline World Standards

safetyfirstEven a few weeks after the event, we are still confounded. How could a pilot intentionally murder 150 people in a French Alps airline crash?  Shockwaves continue to reverberate.

We recall the details with horror:  the pilot leaving the cockpit to use the bathroom and discovering, when he returned, that the co-pilot had locked him out.  Evidence from a cockpit voice recorder indicates that the pilot pounded on the door trying to get back in…unsuccessfully.  Simultaneously, the co-pilot deliberately dropped the altitude from 38,000 to 100 feet, and headed straight into a mountain. 

We know this story relates to the mental health of the pilot, as well as the lack of requirement for two people in the cockpit at all times, which might have prevented this tragedy from happening. The US, for example, requires two people in the cockpit at all times. So if a pilot has to use the bathroom, a flight attendant replaces him in the cockpit. 

Let’s peel the onion on this situation and look at what can be done to prevent similar events in the future.  Perhaps all requirements should be standardized worldwide. 

According to The New York Times, pilots go through a physical check-up once a year, but a mental screening is not required.  In the Germanwings Flight 9525 situation, notes were found in the co-pilot’s house indicating that he had bouts of depression and should not have been working. While this was initially kept hidden from his employer, we learned that the pilot had sent similar information to his employer.

But decisions should not be made based on the integrity of the pilot alone. Physician-verified physical and psychological documented evaluations based on past medical visits should be required, in addition to the examinations given by the airlines. 

The issue of privacy vs. safety has been raised. If airlines required confidential documentation, it could deter some pilots from seeking psychiatric consultations. In this case, I feel safety needs to trump a potential psychological stigma. 

Ultimately, safety is the only face any airline can show. Without it, the business cannot exist.