More Mental Health Monitoring for Pilots – Report on Germanwings Crash

According to French aviation investigators, “The mental health of airline pilots needs to be better monitored and the financial impacts of losing a pilot’s licence for medical reasons should be mitigated to help prevent a repeat of last year’s tragic Germanwings crash“.

All the passengers along with the crew on-board Germanwings flight 9525, flying from Barcelona to Dusseldorf died in March last year. The first officer of the flight Andreas Lubitz intentionally flew the A320 into the French Alps after locking the captain out of the flight deck. The first officer was responsible for the death of 150 passengers and the crew in the Germanwings crash.

A final report regarding the crash was issued by France’s Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses on Sunday. The report found that not even a single instructor or pilot who had flown with Andreas Lubitz in the months before the crash indicated any concerns regarding his mental health.

But it was found that the 27 year old Andreas Lubitz had seen several private physicians since December 2014 and had expressed his concern regarding sleep disorders and vision problems. Lubitz was also prescribed anti-depressants. He also had an episode of depression in the year 2009, this was known to the authorities at that time. He also received sick leave certificates which were not forwarded to Germanwings in the weeks before the crash. One doctor had diagnosed Lubitz with possible psychosis and recommended psychiatric hospital treatment for him, just a fortnight before the Germanwings crash.

In order to prevent such a similar tragedy from occurring in the future, the final report has laid down several recommendations for the airline industry. These recommendations include more mental health monitoring for pilots and better balance between medical confidentiality and public safety.

BEA has said that the European Commission should define some clear rules that require the healthcare providers to inform the appropriate authorities whenever a specific patient’s health is very likely to impact the public safety. In such cases, the healthcare providers must inform the authorities even if the patient does not give consent.

The French report also stated that, “These rules should take into account the specificities of pilots, for whom the risk of losing their medical certificate, being not only a financial matter but also a matter related to their passion for flying, may deter them from seeking appropriate health care“.

In Australia, the personal information can be disclosed by a medical professional if the patient’s state poses a threat to public health or safety. On this the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) president Nathan Safe said, “We would be sceptical of that because the answer is not in breaching people’s confidentiality – that means they won’t tell the doctor in the first place“.

Andreas Lubitz had a €41,000 loan to finance his €60,000 share of pilot training. In case he was found permanently unfit to fly in his first five years of employment then the loss of licence contract with Germanwings would have provided him with a one-time payment of €58,799. Moreover Lubitz did not have any additional insurance that would cover the potential loss of future income if he was found unfit to fly.

BEA also said that, “In an email he wrote in December 2014 he mentioned that having a waiver attached to his medical certificate (due to his previous episode of depression) was hindering his ability to get such an insurance policy“.

The French report also stated that, “This ‘two person in the cockpit’ rule cannot fully mitigate the risk of suicide, although it is likely to make it more difficult.”

“In addition, this rule may introduce new security risks by allowing an additional person inside the flight deck.”

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