The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is working with a panel of select representatives from the government and aviation industry to review the mental health rules for pilots following the suicide crash by the pilot of Germanwings flight 9525 in March. The Pilot Fitness Aviation Rulemaking Committee is expected to release its recommendations within six months.
The crash of Germanwings flight 9525, a low-cost airline owned by Lufthansa, into the French Alps was alleged to have been deliberately planned by the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz. Police reports days after the crash noted of evidences gathered from his home which revealed he had been treated for suicidal tendencies. A doctor had even declared him “unfit to work.” But Lubitz allegedly kept all health-related concerns and findings from his employer and continued to report for work.
On the day of the fatal crash that killed Lubitz and 149 others, the young co-pilot encouraged the captain to take a bathroom break. Once the latter was out of the cockpit, Lubitz locked himself in and initiated the plane to make a descent that caused it to crash into a mountain.
Methods used to evaluate pilots’ emotional health will be scrutinized by the committee of U.S. and international experts, including barriers or predicaments that hamper reporting. The committee also includes members of medical professionals who specialize in aerospace medicine. Groups representing pilots and airlines will also work with the committee.
“Safety is the industry’s top priority,” the International Air Transport Assn., a trade group for the world’s airlines, said. “IATA is pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this important initiative on pilot fitness.”
FAA said in a statement that U.S. pilots already undergo robust medical screening. But it decided to take a new look at the important issue of pilot fitness because of the recent accidents involving Germanwings as well as Malaysia Airline carriers.
Existing U.S. regulations mandate pilots to have a physical examination yearly. For captains 40 years and older, they must take the physical examination twice a year. An FAA medical application form detailing mental disorders, if any, must be filled-out by each pilot. Payments for fines of falsifying information can be as high as $250,000 per pilot in the U.S.
Once the recommendations are in, the FAA said it could consider instituting changes to testing procedures, aircraft design, pilot training and other areas.