New EU air safety measures could follow Germanwings tragedy

EU to propose new air safety measures. [Aleksander Marking / Flickr]

The European Commission will propose new air safety measures after the Germanwings crash earlier this week, an EU official said on Friday (27 March).

A plane flying from Barcelona to Dusseldorf with 144 passengers on board crashed in the French Alps on 24 March leaving no survivors. Preliminary investigations suggest the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz crashed the plane on purpose after locking his captain out of the cockpit.

Two people in the cockpit rule

The Commission is looking at a rule, among other measures, to ensure two people are present in the cockpit at all times for the duration of the flight, the EU official said. The second person does not have to be a pilot but could be a member of the crew, according to the official. The German Aviation Association (BDL) has now introduced a two-person cockpit rule.

The EU executive is waiting for the results of the investigations into the causes of the crash before suggesting any new rules.

The new proposal could come as a non-binding recommendation or a legal act in the framework of the airworthiness directives (AD), the Commission said.

AD are instructions demanding changes to aircrafts with safety problems. They are issued by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which is responsible for drafting and monitoring the EU air safety regulations. It is up to member states to ensure EASA rules are effectively applied. Apart from EASA instructions, national airlines can voluntarily adopt stricter rules as long as it doesn’t contradict EU law, the Commission explained.

EASA recommended today that at least two people be present in the cockpit of airliners at all times, with at least one of those being a qualified pilot.

“EASA publishes today a temporary recommendation for airlines to ensure that at least two crew, including at least one qualified pilot, are in the flight crew compartment at all times of the flight,” the agency said on its website. “Airlines should re-assess the safety and security risks associated with a flight crew leaving the cockpit due to operational or physiological needs.”

Post-9/11 rules

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the EU considerably reinforced its air safety requirements.

New EU rules obliged all airplanes above a certain number of passengers to have the cockpit door locked and reinforced, said the official. This has reduced hijacking and fatalities but also made it impossible for the captain on the doomed flight to break back into the cockpit. 

No pilot with a medical history, especially a mental disorder, is currently allowed to fly, according to the EU’s executive.

EASA rules oblige pilots to undergo medical check-ups, including psychiatric and psychological controls, once a year. After a certain age, such medical controls are repeated every six months.

Following consultation, the doctor will make a recommendation if the person’s condition can interfere with flying the aircraft.

Apart from the check-ups, airline staff can also report to their national authority on any minor flight incidents or refuse to fly if they are not feeling well.

Strengthening medical check-ups could also be part of the new Commission proposals, the official said.   

The European Pilot Association said pilots were “deeply disturbed by the latest turn in the investigation of the tragic Germanwings crash”.

“As trusted professionals, who invest a lifelong career in making air travel safe, this is a very difficult day for us,” said Philip von Schöppenthau, secretary general at the European Pilot Association. He argued that pilots “are determined to work with manufacturers, operators and authorities to improve safety”. 

“Even if this turns out to be a single extraordinary event, we are committed to making improvements to ensure flying becomes even safer than it has always been,” said von Schöppenthau. 

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