French Red Cross members pay tribute to the victims in front of
a stone slab erected as a monument, near the site of the crash near Le
Vernet on March 28. The crash of Germanwings Flight into an Alpine
mountain, killing all 150 people aboard, has raised questions about the
mental state of the co-pilot.
It’s been less than a week since the catastrophic loss of Germanwings Flight 9525 and its 144 passengers and six crew.
Fear of becoming a victim to such coldblooded evil will
surely weigh heavily on the minds of the nine million passengers who
take to the skies each day.
What to do about pilot suicide?
There has been 619 killed in nine incidents over 33 years (or 859 killed if you include FedEx and MH370).
is telling in how far we have come in aviation safety that pilot
suicide is now a significant cause of air disasters, and if MH370 turns
out to be one it will actually be the leading cause in this last year.
Japan Air Lines 24 killed, 9 Feb 1982
Royal Air Moroc 44 killed, 21 Aug 1994
Egyptair 217 killed, 31 Oct 1997
Silkair 107 killed, 19 Dec 1997
LAM Mozambique 33 killed, 29 Nov 2013
Lufthansa (Germanwings) 150 killed, 24 Mar 2015
Air Botswana 1 killed, 11 October 1999
Pacific Southwest Airlines 43 killed, 7 Dec 1987
Fedex attempted pilot suicide, 7 Apr 1994
Malaysia suspected pilot suicide 239 killed, 8 Mar 2014
The big vulnerability appears to be precisely
the “cure” put in place to deal with terrorism: the cockpit door locks.
It is clear that considering the heightened passenger awareness that now
exists, the danger of a terrorist overpowering a crew member and
forcing his way into the cockpit is now less likely than the danger of a
pilot shutting himself in the cockpit and excluding all others.
Quick Fix By European Regulators
quick decision by EASA, the EU aviation regulator, to require that at
least two crew members remain in the cockpit at all times should reduce
the possibility of pilot murder-suicide.
it is no magic wand. When the first officer of EgyptAir Flight 990
decided to crash his plane into the Atlantic Ocean in October 1999,
killing 217, his captain fought to save those aboard, ultimately failing
to over-power the co-pilot, according to an Economist article
the short term, rules will change to insure two people remain in the
cockpit at all times. In the longer term, more mandatory
psych/medical/drug evaluations and background checks of pilots.
Technology will also improve to provide live data to the Cloud at all
times. Perhaps even cameras in the cockpit.
It Seems The Humans Are Making The Mistakes – Is This Something We Should Think About?
Driverless cars. Pilotless planes. It’s coming. Along with the replacement of many jobs across the globe with artificial intelligence.
a lot sooner than almost everyone realizes. Most of the public
lampooned driverless cars only a couple of years ago, and now there is a
race to be the first car manufacturer to have a self-driving car.
Loss Of Trust
When you fly, you’re putting your trust in a company and their two pilots. You’re not thinking they’re going to do something nefarious.
are trusting the airline to get you safely from point A to point B, and
you have no recourse over their actions. You are not the master of your
Unlike in a car, where you would have some recourse, or a boat you could try to swim.
flight attendant, Judy R. asked FlyersRights, “How did the other pilots
and co-pilots feel about Andreas Lubitz? When I worked, there were
pilots who spoke openly that they wouldn’t fly with certain other guys
due to trust issues or personality clashes.”
moral of the story is that we cannot place absolute faith in any person
or group of persons. We have found this out about politicians, doctors,
lawyers, clergy, and every other group. Pilots are no exception.
Limit Of Liability At Issue
Montreal Convention on air carrier liability generally limits airline liability to around $150,000 for each passenger who dies in a crash if families do not sue.
Although the pilot’s actions may add to Germanwings’ liability reports Reuters
who have represented families in past airline disasters told Reuters
that potential lawsuits could focus on whether Germanwings properly
screened the co-pilot before and during his employment, and on whether
the airline should have had a policy requiring two or more people in
cockpits at all times during a flight.
Last week The Wall St. Journal
declared that Lufthansa may face unlimited liability in the Germanwings crash.
“Unless it can be proven the airline engaged in intentional
misconduct, a difficult standard only proven in a few instances,
Germanwings’ liability is capped at $150,000 per passenger under the
Montreal Convention of 1999,” said Paul Hudson, president of
He continued, “Some air crash attorneys make such claims to attract clients and charge up to 33% of recovery”
Lessons For Low-Cost Carriers – Progressive Deterioration Of Working Conditions, Pay, And Safety Standards
How many young First Officers are in rather desperate economic situations?
As FlyersRights has pointed out many times
there is evidence of a progressive worsening of pilots’ working
conditions, which has negative financial and safety consequences.
the USA, following an air accident in 2014, the FAA demanded that the
maximum working shift be set at nine hours, and for long stretches, the
presence of three pilots would be required.
rules have not yet been taken in Europe, where shifts with only two
pilots onboard regularly exceed eight hours, compromising the safety of
the passengers and crew.
There is also the growing problem of low wages
In February 2009, a Colgan Air turboprop crashed in NY. The National
Transportation Safety Board, ruled the accident was caused by the
pilots’ “inability to respond properly to the stall warnings.”
evidence so far that the Germanwings pilot was suffering from any
specific preoccupation with wages. But that anxiety can lead to mistakes
in the cockpit that have the same end result as those of a well-paid
yet suicidal pilot. And ultimately, the Germanwings accident shows that mental stress is a problem.
love to fly, but when the airlines are given incentives to overwork
them, or to cut corners on safety in general, bad things are going to
This is a job for intrusive government regulation.