EU to toughen air pilots’ health screening

A Germanwings pilot waves his hand at Milan's Malpensa airport, Italy. [Lorenzo Giacobbo / Flickr]

The European Commission will propose laws to toughen screening for new pilots by the end of this year after aviation safety authorities called for stricter medical requirements.

Pilot screening and mental health assessments came under scrutiny after a young pilot barricaded himself inside the cockpit and crashed a Germanwings jetliner into the Alps in March 2015, killing all 150 onboard.

Prosecutors have found evidence that the co-pilot, who had suffered severe depression and may have feared losing his job, had researched suicide methods and concealed an illness from his employer, sparking a debate on supervision and medical secrecy.

Among the proposals put forward by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on Tuesday were a comprehensive mental health assessment during initial screening, as well as drug and alcohol checks.

The proposals follow recommendations initially made by a task force set up after the crash. They will now go to the European Commission and serve as the basis for legislation to be presented by the Commission towards the end of 2016, EASA said in a statement.

Directly after the 2015 crash, EASA introduced a rule requiring two crew members to be in the cockpit at all times. But it relaxed this requirement last month, saying it was up to operators to first conduct a risk assessment and decide whether they wanted to maintain this rule.

An Airbus 1320 passenger aircraft was deliberately flown into a French mountainside by its co-pilot Andreas Lubitz in March 2015 in a tragedy that cost 150 lives and raised unprecedented aviation safety questions.

The aircraft was operated by Germanwings, the budget airline subsidiary of Lufthansa.

French investigators probing the crash called for “clearer rules” on the lifting of medical confidentiality if pilots show signs of psychological problems.

Lubitz, 27, who was suffering from depression, was allowed to continue flying despite having been seen by doctors dozens of times in the years preceding the crash.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has already recommended stepping up medical testing for pilots, including more psychological tests, as part of an Action Plan adopted in the wake of the Germanwings tragedy.

But EU authorities have criticised the German government for ignoring EU air safety recommendations and failing to bolster pilot medical checks. Berlin has resisted European Commission’s efforts to better take into account passengers’ interest in their legislation, as the country continues to prioritise pilots’ right to privacy over public safety.

Germany reluctant to strengthen pilot checks on first anniversary of Germanwings crash

EU authorities have criticised the German government for ignoring EU air safety recommendations and failing to bolster pilot medical checks, after the Germanwings tragedy that killed 150 passengers and crew members on 24 March 2015.

  • End 2016: European Commission to table updated rules on pilots’ medical fitness.

European Air Safety Agency (EASA):

  • Press release (15 Aug. 2016)
  • Opinion on aviation safety rules related to medical aspect and fitness of aircrews.

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