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.
The final investigation report, released by French authorities (Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses) on 13 March, concluded that Germany’s process of self-reporting, which allows pilots to indicate when their medical fitness is affected between periodic evaluations, failed to prevent the detection of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz’s mental illness.
But German authorities have not offered any ‘mea culpa’ and had made little progress on correcting possible flaws, an EU official speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue told EURACTIV.
Moreover, 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.
EU sources close to the dossier explained that the German authorities have been “reluctant” to amend their national laws. Doctors and pilots associations, and airlines in the country have resisted unveiling medical records in some cases as EU rules mandate.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is in charge of examining the correct implementation of all EU aviation rules, including pilot licensing and medical fitness rules.
A 2011 Commission regulation stipulates the rules for fitness checks of pilots. The regulation says that independent, specialised aero-medical examiners approved by the member states should check pilots’ psychiatric and psychological fitness for flying at least once a year.
Airlines are required to check the validity of their pilots’ certificate.
Besides, when there is a problem with the medical record of a pilot, a doctor cannot authorise the licence, and the dossier should be transferred to national authorities.
However, the German rules allow only for a partial transfer of the information. The lack of full access to medical records creates “safety concerns”, experts explained. This not only goes against EU law, but also the Chicago convention of the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
Non-compliance with EU rules
In regard to Germany, “in some cases”, EASA’s inspections result in findings “of non-compliance, which are communicated to the Civil Aviation authorities”, a Commission spokesperson said.
In this case, Germany should have produced a corrective action plan to address the findings.
But Germany has repeatedly neglected the recommendations issued by EASA over the last years, European sources explained.
They confirmed that Berlin has stood out as the least cooperative capital when it comes to dealing with the agency. For that reason, an infringement procedure in this field against Germany has been considered for many years.
The German Ministry of Transport did not respond to EURACTIV’s request for a comment.
The Commission decided to first take action in September 2014, six months before the Germanwings crash.
Due to the tragic incident, Brussels decided to keep a low profile during the first half of the year. Since Berlin did not fully adopt EU law, the Commission was ready to take action against the German authorities at the end of 2015.
But the EU executive decided to postpone the decision as the German government promised to propose new measures to bring its rulebook and practices in line with EU laws.
EU officials stressed that Germany started to amend its legislation recently only after the Commission threatened Berlin with opening an infringement procedure due to the lack of action.
Germany’s ruling coalition agreed last February on introducing amendments for strengthening controls for pilots.
According to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, airlines must be certain that aviation personnel are “competent and able” to “ensure a safe and orderly flight”, according to internal documents.
Germany intends to create an aero-medical database to tackle the issue of doctor shopping, in order to avoid it that pilots validate their certificates in member states where measures are more relaxed.
But Ulrich Lange, the transport spokesman for the CDU/CSU group in the Bundestag, stressed that data security would be of the utmost importance to secure “the important relationship of trust between pilot and doctor”, Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote.